COVID claims

The number of initial unemployment claims for unemployment compensation in the United States fell below one million for the first time since the beginning of the COVID crisis. But the cumulative number of initial claims is still staggering, reaching 56.3 million workers by the end of last week.

This morning, the U.S. Department of Labor (pdf) reported that, during the week ending last Saturday, another 963 thousand American workers filed initial claims for unemployment compensation. They’re the second group to file for unemployment claims during the pandemic who are not going to rise the additional $600 benefit that was authorized in the CARES Act.

Here is a breakdown of each of the past twenty-one weeks:

• week ending on 21 March—3.31 million

• week ending on 28 March—6.87 million

• week ending on 4 April—6.62 million

• week ending on 11 April—5.24 million

• week ending on 18 April—4.44 million

• week ending on 25 April—3.87 million

• week ending on 2 May—3.18 million

• week ending on 9 May—2.69 million

• week ending on 16 May—2.45 million

• week ending on 23 May—2.12 million

• week ending on 30 May—1.90 million

• week ending on 6 June—1.57 million

• week ending on 13 June—1.54 million

• week ending on 20 June—1.48 million

• week ending on 27 June—1.41 million

• week ending on 4 July—1.31 million

• week ending on 11 July—1.31 million

• week ending on 18 July—1.42 million

• week ending on 25 July—1.44 million

• week ending on 1 August—1.19 million

• week ending on 8 August—0.96 million

While the number of continued claims for unemployment compensation has continued to fall from its peak, the total from the previous week (the series of continued claims lags initial claims by one week) was still 15.5 million workers. And we need to add to that an additional 10.7 million workers receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.* Therefore, as of 10 days ago, 26.2 million workers were receiving some form of unemployment compensation.

To understand the magnitude of this figure, we need to compare it to the number of continued claims in late May 2009 (6.6 million), the worst point of the so-called Great Recession. Right now, in the midst of the Pandemic Depression, the number of American workers receiving unemployment compensation is 4 times what it was at the nadir of the Second Great Depression.


In the meantime, at least 1,478 new coronavirus deaths and 54,187 new cases were reported in the United States on 12 August. As of this afternoon, more than 5,217,000 Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 166,100 have died. The three-day rolling average of new cases per million people in the country was 153.4 compared to 32.5 cases for the world as a whole.

We can therefore expect to see new waves of business closures, which in turn will mean more American workers furloughed and laid off, and therefore steady streams of both initial unemployment claims and continued claims, in the weeks and months ahead.

*This is the special program for business owners, the self-employed, independent contractors, or gig workers not receiving other unemployment insurance.

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