By David E. Hubler
Contributor, In Homeland Security
As Americans face the grim reality of 100,000 deaths and still rising from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus pandemic, another equally stark and foreboding number that may be overshadowed is 40.7 million.
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That’s the current number of unemployment claims that has been rising steadily since March, as reported Thursday by The New York Times. The figures include an additional 2.1 million claims filed last week.
That is “the equivalent of one out of every four American workers — since the pandemic grabbed hold in mid-March,” The Times observed. “The report marks the eighth week in a row that new jobless filings dipped from the peak of almost 6.9 million, but the level is still far above historic highs.”
The Times explained the new numbers by saying that the “latest claims may be not only a result of fresh layoffs, but also evidence that states are working their way through a backlog. And overcounting in some places and undercounting in others makes it difficult to measure the layoffs precisely.”
Weekly Unemployment Filings Totals Remain at or above Three Million
On May 14, The Wall Street Journal reported that “about 36.5 million Americans have filed applications in the past eight weeks, with weekly totals remaining at or above three million a week.” However, “unemployment filings have declined since an initial surge in layoffs drove claims up to a weekly peak of nearly 7 million at the end of March.”
In February, the White House forecast “an economic growth rate of 3.1 percent from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the fourth quarter of 2021, and growth rates at or around 3 percent for the ensuing decade. It forecast an unemployment rate of 3.5 percent for the year,” The Times said.
The Congressional Budget Office said in April that it expects the economy will contract by 5.6 percent this year and end with an unemployment rate above 11 percent.
“The virus has rendered those projections obsolete. Unemployment could hit 20 percent in June,” White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett told CNN this week. He said the May unemployment rate — which has already reached Great Depression-level figures — could be “north of 20%” if “some technical things that kind of messed up” with the claims reporting are fixed.
“My expectation is that since there’s still initial claims for unemployment insurance in May, that the unemployment rate will be higher in June than in May, but then after that it should start to trend down,” Hassett said.
Asked if it’s possible that the unemployment rate will still be in double digits when Americans go to the polls in November, Hassett said: “Yes, I do. But I think that all the signs of economic recovery are going to be raging everywhere.”
White House Opts Not to Release Customary Updated Economic Projections This Summer
The White House is supposed to unveil a federal budget proposal every February and then typically provides a “mid-session review” in July or August with updated projections on economic trends such as unemployment, inflation and economic growth, The Washington Post noted.
White House officials, however, “have decided not to release updated economic projections this summer, opting against publishing forecasts that would almost certainly codify an administration assessment that the coronavirus pandemic has led to a severe economic downturn, according to three people with knowledge of the decision,” The Post explained, adding that “Budget experts said they were not aware of any previous White House opting against providing forecasts in this ‘mid-session review’ document in any other year since at least the 1970s.”
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