WASHINGTON - The pace of claims for unemployment compensation slowed marginally in the U.S. last week, but another 3.2 million still filed for the benefits as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the world’s largest economy.
In all, 33.5 million U.S. workers have now filed for jobless compensation since the pandemic shut huge sectors of American commerce starting in mid-March, according to the Labor Department, including factories, shops, restaurants, white-collar offices and sports leagues.
The total amounts to about one of every five U.S. workers.
The workers filing for the benefits normally are paid slightly less than half their normal salaries. But these payments are currently being augmented during the pandemic with $600-a-week supplements from the federal government for the next four months.
The peak of the unemployment benefit claims may have come in late March with 6.9 million workers filing for the jobless compensation.
The weekly pace of claims has diminished each week since then, but the millions of claims have still been unparalleled over decades of U.S. economic history, reaching back to the Great Depression in the 1930s. The number of claims has far exceeded those made during the Great Recession in 2008.
The government on Friday is reporting the April unemployment rate, with the White House predicting it could reach 20 percent, a number never seen in the 72 years the records have been compiled. One report on Wednesday said that U.S. employers slashed 20.2 million jobs in late March and early April.
Still, U.S. commerce is slowly edging back to life even as the U.S. coronavirus death toll has topped 73,000, the biggest national total across the world, and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases totals more than 1.2 million.
Governors in at least 43 of the 50 U.S. states have moved toward reopening of parts of their economies, in some cases telling restaurant owners they can reopen if they maintain safe two-meter distancing between customers or let shop keepers reopen if they limit the number of customers at any one time.
Some factories could reopen later in May, although it is not clear how workers will be able to maintain safe distancing to limit their chances of catching the virus.
The government reported last week that the national economy declined 4.8 percent in the first quarter this year, with the prospect of a much bigger decline in the April-to-June quarter, more than at any point since World War II.
Credit Suisse is predicting a 33.5 percent decline, with investment banker Goldman Sachs slightly higher at 34 percent with a 15 percent unemployment rate.
However, Goldman is predicting a robust 19 percent gain in the third quarter from July through September as the U.S. moves toward a possible recovery from the pandemic.
Some companies laid off workers quickly in mid-March as the spread of the coronavirus became apparent. But other companies vowed to keep paying their workers, at least for a while, even as many of them had little work to do as their potential customers stayed home to protect themselves and their families.
Some companies eventually laid off those workers as well, as the depth of the country’s economic turmoil took hold.