Home > Uncategorized > 45.7 million USA unemployment claims

45.7 million USA unemployment claims

from David Ruccio

Initial claims9

They came for him in the morning, before coffee break. — Stewart O’Nan, The Odds

This morning, the U.S. Department of Labor (pdf) reported that, during the week ending last Saturday, another 1.5 million American workers filed initial claims for unemployment compensation. That’s on top of the 44.2 million workers who were laid off during the preceding twelve weeks.

Here is a breakdown of each week:

• 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—1.51 million

All told, 45.74 million American workers have filed initial unemployment claims during the past thirteen weeks.

To put that into some kind of perspective, I calculated the initial claims totals for two other relevant 13-week periods: the worst point of the Second Great Depression (encompassing the weeks ending on 11, 17, 24, and 31 January, 7, 14, 21, 28 February, 7, 14, 21, and 28 March, and 4 April 2009) and the weeks immediately preceding the current depression (so, 21 and 28 December, 4, 11, 18, and 25 January, 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29 February and 7 and 14 March 2020).

As readers can see in the chart above, the difference is stunning: 8.2 million workers filed initial claims during the worst 13-week period of 2009, 2.8 million from late December to mid-March of this year, and 45.7 million in the past thirteen weeks.

Once again, keep in mind, the most recent numbers still don’t include perhaps millions of other American workers, since many states are still addressing backlogs of claims. Masses of workers have been unsuccessful in applying for unemployment insurance because state websites and phone lines are inundated and still, even now, not working correctly.

According to the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unemployed workers fell by 2.1 million to 21.0 million in May, leading to an official unemployment rate of 13.3 percent—although, by correcting the misclassification of a large number of workers (who were classified as employed but absent from work), the official rate would have been about 3 percentage points higher. Moreover, the surveys on which those data are based only capture those who were unemployed in mid-May.

If we allow for the fact that at least some workers have been forced to have the freedom to return to work in recent months, then the total number of fully unemployed workers is something on the order of 32 million.* That would mean an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent, which is just below the rate last seen in the first Great Depression (25 percent) and twice the highest rate (10 percent) suffered during the Second Great Depression.**

On top of that, we should add in the workers who are involuntarily working part-time jobs—in other words, workers who would like to have full-time jobs but have been forced “for economic reasons” to accept fewer hours. The reserve army of unemployed and underemployed workers then rises to more than 42.6 million—or 27 percent of the U.S. labor force.

Moreover, as I argued recently, millions of unemployed workers are not included in this number:

In addition to first-time job-seekers who have unable to find a job (some unknown portion of an estimated 3.8 million high-school graduates, 1 million who graduated with associate’s degrees, and 2 million with bachelor’s degrees), it doesn’t include any of the estimated 8 million undocumented workers who have lost their jobs.

Meanwhile, employers and the White House (including Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia) are clamoring for businesses to be allowed the freedom to reopen. But they’re worried unemployed workers, who have received supplemental benefits as a result of the CARES act, will not want to return to work under with the risk of becoming infected with the virus. So, they’ve announced both that the extra $600 “disincentive” for people to return to work will be allowed to expire at the end of July and that any workers who refuse to be called back to work will lose their unemployment payments.

Their only plan, in the midst of the pandemic, is to turn the screws and force more and more American workers to have the freedom to sell their ability to work to someone else.


*I used the following, perhaps overly generous, assumption: 3 in 10 workers who filed initial claims in the past thirteen weeks have gone back to work.

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

  1. Ikonoclast
    June 20, 2020 at 10:50 am

    “It must be very fragile, if a handful of berries can bring it down.” – Katniss Everdeen, referring to the Panem political economy; a system of exploitation with “bread and circuses”, (panem et circenses) applied long with big serves of brutalitiy and terror plush a dash of (false) hope to control the masses.

    One is tempted to say, “It must be a very fragile system, if a single novel cornavirus can bring it down.” This sums up our current dilemma. It IS a very fragile system and the powers-that-be only understand more applications of the same; the very same which made it a maladaptve and fragile system in the first place. The callousness, brutality, lack of answers and lack of imagination will continue… until morale improves. This is all that this system offers. The elites will drive it until it breaks or until the bio-system and climate break.

    Sadly, comprehensive collapse becomes almost something to be wished for as the only way out of an impossible dilemma. The best hope then is a revolution at the cusp or earlier stages of the collapse. The later the revolution, the worse the collapse and its aftermath will be. Russia and China offer no path. They are both totalitarian state capitalist systems with crony oligarchic characteristics. The USA is closer to a revolution right now than any major country on earth. It must find a new, non-capitalist, way or we are all doomed. It’s as simple, and as complex, as that.

  2. Patrick Newman
    June 21, 2020 at 11:23 am

    Anybody who thinks that many perhaps even most employers will not seek an adverse reset of working remuneration and terms and conditions is pathologically naive. Additional employment protection laws are essential but virtually inconceivable in both the USA and the UK under their current governments. It would not be surprising if Biden refuses to commit to better employment protection during the imminent election campaign.

  3. Ken Zimmerman
    July 6, 2020 at 2:45 pm

    Taken together, the chapters of Anthropologies of Unemployment, New Perspectives on Work and Its Absence, edited by Jong Bum Kwon and Carrie M. Laneby reveal that there is something new about unemployment today. It is not a temporary occurrence, but a chronic condition. In adjusting to persistent, longstanding unemployment, people and groups create new understandings of unemployment as well as of work and employment; they improvise new forms of sociality, morality, and personhood. Ethnographic studies such as those found in Anthropologies of Unemployment are crucial if we are to understand the broader forms, meanings, and significance of pervasive economic insecurity and discover the emergence of new social and cultural possibilities.

    Everyone (media to the ordinary person in the street) make up “what ifs” to help us see and make sense of the unexamined assumptions embedded in the media headlines about unemployment we encounter every day. One of the major strengths of the anthropological approach to studying culture is precisely this exercise of situating the seemingly mundane and taken-for-granted in its wider context. To understand what unemployment means, why it happens, and how it feels, we need to consider it within its appropriate context.

    Ethnographic work is a big part of this effort. Ethnographic subjects are varied. Young and old, male and female, immigrant and native-born, of varying races and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some continue to look for paid employment; others face such structural and social obstacles that being unemployed has, in many respects, become their daily work. Yet all are unemployed or underemployed, and thus—despite the many differences between them—they share the experience of economic, cultural, and even bodily disenfranchisement. In all cases the consequences of unemployment are long-lasting, affecting social and familial relationships, personal wealth, self-identity, and mental and physical health well after re-employment (if any). People do not simply recover; their worlds do not just return to normal. But the ways in which their worlds change, and the ways in which they remain the same, vary dramatically across contexts. Juxtaposing ethnographic accounts of unemployment across a variety of regions, professions, and populations also allows us to identify common themes and experiences without reducing the significance of the intersection of gender, class, age, race, and citizenship in specific cultural contexts.

    In the United States, the foundational culture of employment has been shaken to the point of collapse. Unemployed Americans have tended to become visible, if merely temporarily, only in times of depression and recession, during which they are often perceived as threats to normative values and behaviors (Denning 2010, 79). The presumption has been that full-time, formal employment (at least for males) is the normal socioeconomic condition; conversely, unemployment is understood to be abnormal and temporary, despite economic evidence to the contrary, stretching as far back as the Great Depression in the 1930s. Yet in recent years stories of the long-term unemployed have been shared across popular media, from traditional news outlets to interactive news sites and popular blog networks. They tell of personal feelings of grief, confusion, and indignation; broken marriages and families; social isolation and alienation; shattered identities and lost self-esteem; and deteriorating health and well-being. While there are exceptions (stories of strengthened marital and family bonds, of reprioritized social values, of recommitments to religious life, and of those who have not been affected at all), most narratives describe the social and personal costs of prolonged joblessness.

    Through the 1960s secure cradle-to- grave employment was considered the just reward of loyal and hard-working organization men. In the latter part of the century an alternative model of career started to emerge, one that emphasized flexibility over predictability and, in its spaciousness, left decidedly more room for individual workers to chart their own unique paths to professional success. These “protean careers,” a term coined by management expert Douglas T. Hall in the 1970s, were designed to be both self-directed and personally satisfying. Rather than allowing an employer to decide one’s career trajectory it was left up to the individual to plan whether and how one might advance one’s personal and professional interests (Hall 1976). This new model was allegedly designed to serve employers and employees alike, creating more fulfilled and productive workers. In this new envisioning, stable employment was actually the enemy of individual freedom. A perspective that meshed beautifully with the neoliberal principles and policies gaining cultural traction at that same moment in American history. As one executive put it, “To give my employees job security would be to disempower them and relieve them of the responsibility that they need to feel for their own success” (Ross 2003,17). And this, of course links employment and unemployment with the current crises of American culture and society. The culture now teaches Americans to take pride in and responsibility for one’s individual career rather than the wellbeing of society and our common culture. This is a recipe for cultural and then societal collapse. As if that was news to anyone at the current juncture in US history.

    • Robert Locke
      July 6, 2020 at 6:33 pm

      An article in Quartz, by Alison Griswold, points out that

      “European countries seeking to protect workers from unemployment are overwhelmingly looking to Germany.

      Kurzarbeit has existed for more than a century, but it gained international attention during the 2008 financial crisis, when the number of workers enrolled in it climbed from around 50,000 to more than 1.5 million in a year (pdf, p. 35). The program is widely credited with helping Germany weather the crisis and recover relatively quickly; economists believe unemployment would have risen by twice as much (pdf) without it. Kurzarbeit’s long history and acceptance by both firms and workers is one reason why it works so well in Germany. And because layoffs must clear a higher bar under German law than in a market like the US, making them more onerous and costly, companies are eager to avoid them.”

      Compare unemployment under the Kurzarbeit policies in Germany with the Unemployment figures in the US, and we get 3.5% in US in March, 4+% in Germanny, then Usa 13% April to 6% in April in Germany to 12% in US in July to 6% in Germany. The whole business is whacky.

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