We can almost calculate the moment when the unemployed losing patience will take their own fate into their own hands.

Friedrich Engels

This morning, the U.S. Department of Labor (pdf) reported that, during the week ending last Saturday, another 3.84 million American workers filed initial claims for unemployment compensation. That’s on top of 4.43 million workers who are laid off during the week ending on 18 April, 5.24 million workers during the week ending 11 April, 6.62 million workers during the week ending 4 April, 6.87 million workers during the week ending 28 March, and another 3.31 million in the previous week.

All told, more than 30 million American workers have filed initial unemployment claims during the past six weeks.

To put that into some kind of perspective, I calculated the initial claims totals for two other relevant 6-week periods: the worst point of the Second Great Depression (encompassing the weeks ending on 28 February, 7, 14, 21, and 28 March, and 4 April 2009) and the weeks immediately preceding the current depression (so, 8, 15, 22, and 29 February and 7 and 14 March 2020).

As readers can see in the chart above, the difference is stunning: 3.94 million workers filed initial claims during the worst 6-week period of 2009, 1.35 million from mid-February to mid-March of this year, and 26.45 million in the past six weeks.

Once again, keep in mind, the most recent numbers still don’t include perhaps millions of other American workers, since many states (such as Florida) are still addressing backlogs of claims. Masses of workers have been unsuccessful in applying for unemployment insurance because state websites are freezing and their phones are inundated with inquiries.

Moreover, because they’re only initial claims, the numbers also don’t include the 7.1 million American workers who were deemed officially unemployed in early March, before most of the shutdowns started.

Add them together, and the number of workers currently unemployed in the United States is now close to 37 million.* That would mean an American unemployment rate of something on the order of 22.4 percent, which week by week is getting close to the level (estimated to have been about 25 percent) last seen in the first Great Depression and more than double the highest rate (10 percent) experienced during the Second Great Depression.**


*At the highest of levels of unemployment following the 2007-08 crash, there were 15.3 million jobless Americans.

**We should also remember that, on average (since 1994), the U6 unemployment rate (which includes so-called discouraged workers and those working part-time for economic reasons) is 1.8 times the official (U3) unemployment rate. Thus, for example, the U6 unemployment rate was 17.1 percent in October 2009, when the official rate was 10 percent. Right now, we don’t have a good measure of the number of workers who either haven’t been able to file for unemployment or whose hours have been cut, forcing them to work part-time. There is no doubt, however, that the number of currently unemployed or underemployed workers is much higher than 37 million.

  1. […] as regular readers know, my own calculations indicate a current unemployment rate of more than 20 percent. And I expect that to grow when the […]

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