‘Rolling Shock’ as U.S. Job Losses mount even with Reopenings

Nearly three million new unemployment claims brought the two-month total to more than 36 million, even with some still frustrated in seeking benefits.

By  guest authors Patricia Cohen and Tiffany Hsu from the New York Times

Graph courtesy by the New York Times

Scattershot reopenings of retail stores, nail salons and restaurants around the country have not halted the flood of layoffs, with the government reporting Thursday that nearly three million people filed unemployment claims last week, bringing the two-month tally to more than 36 million.

The weekly count of new claims has been declining since late March, but that hopeful flicker barely stands out in an otherwise grim and chaotic economic landscape.

“This is a very protracted, painful situation for the labor market,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, “and I just don’t see anything positive.”

In places where the fitful reopening has started, workers called back to their jobs often face reduced hours and paychecks as well as a heightened risk of infection. Declining to return, however, is likely to put an end to any jobless benefits.

“It’s a very tough choice for those in the service industry and those at the lower end of the pay scale,” Ms. Farooqi said. “Do you go back and risk getting sick, or have no money coming in?”

Lags in data make it hard to calculate just how many workers may have been rehired after the most recent shelter-in-place restrictions were lifted. And Connecticut cited an error in the government’s report that appeared to have inflated the state’s latest claims by more than 200,000.

But Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America, said she doubted that callbacks to work outnumbered additional layoffs from other sectors. The slowdown has been rippling beyond the early shutdowns in retail and hospitality to professional business services, manufacturing and health care.

“In a sense, it’s a rolling shock,” she said.

Georgia, one of the first states to reopen, is an example. “The reopening is bringing people back to work, reducing the total amount of people receiving unemployment insurance,” Ms. Meyer noted. “But the number of initial jobless claims is still rising, which suggests there is still residual weakness in the economy.”