Layoffs are skyrocketing to unprecedented levels as the coronavirus upends the U.S. economy.
The number of Americans filing initial applications for unemployment benefits jumped nearly twelvefold to a record 3.28 million last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, offering the most vivid evidence yet of the pandemic’s widespread damage to the economy.
The total was well above the 1.5 million claims economists had forecast, according to the median estimate of those surveyed by Bloomberg. Workers file claims for unemployment benefits when they lose their jobs.
“A definite and unmistakable sign the United States has entered a recession,” Chief Economist Scott Anderson of Bank of the West wrote in a note to clients.
The pandemic has set off the most abrupt near-shutdown of the economy in history. Many restaurants, shops, movie theaters, sports arenas and other gathering spots across the country suddenly closed their doors or scaled back service last week to contain the spread of the virus.
‘Unmistakable sign’ of recession
Layoffs continued in accommodation and food services, Labor said. Other industries hit hard included health care and social assistance, arts, entertainment and recreation, transportation and warehousing, and manufacturing.
Darren McKeon of Colorado Springs, Colo. said he lost his job as the fundraising manager for Student Pilots, a non-profit company that helps student pilots get funding to fly aircraft.
He said the company shut down after non-essential workers were ordered to stay home and that he is filing for unemployment.
“It’s going to be a rocky start to be able to help people further their careers (as pilots),’’ said McKeon, 24. “The aviation industry was booming, but it’s obviously not now.’’
Coronavirus layoffs accelerate:It’s not just restaurants and movie theaters cutting jobs. Small business layoffs spread.
To put the economy’s breathtaking reversal in perspective, the 211,000 claims filed the week ending March 7 were near a half-century low.
Last week’s total is several times larger than the previous record tally of 695,000 unemployment insurance claims in October 1982. It also far surpasses the count of 517,000 two weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and 570,000 during the depths of the financial crisis in December 2008, Morgan Stanley said.
Unemployment claims jumped by 343,000 in Pennsylvania, 180,000 in Ohio, 146,000 in New Jersey, 140,000 in Massachusetts, 139,000 in Texas, 129,000 in California and 119,000 in Washington.
Coronavirus layoffs just starting
The concern is that “layoffs are just starting,” says economist Kathy Bostjancic of Oxford Economics.
Restaurants, hotels and transportation companies have been particularly hard hit, as eateries are shuttered or restricted to take out or pick up orders only, and Americans forgo travel to hunker down at home. McMenamins, which operates brewpubs and hotels in the Northwest, is laying off 3,000 workers.
Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern filed notice that it would be laying off 975 workers in five states, including Indiana and Ohio, where the coronavirus or a disaster declaration was specifically noted as a reason for the cuts.
“This is without a doubt, one of the most incredibly difficult times we have ever faced at Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern,’’ founder and president Gary Callicoat said. “The devastating impacts rippling through the restaurant community due to this situation cannot be overstated.’’
Embassy, Hilton making cuts
Embassy Suites said that it would be cutting the jobs of 120 workers in Arizona and Ohio. The virus outbreak was listed as a cause.
Hilton says that its hotels and franchise owners are taking steps such as scheduling shorter work weeks and having employees take personal time off. But furloughs are occurring on a wide scale as well.
“Tens of thousands … have been furloughed” in the U.S. the company said. This week, Hilton began an initiative to help those employees find temporary work with companies like Amazon, Walgreens and Albertsons that are ramping up hiring to meet the demand for coronavirus-related supplies.
With oil prices crashing recently amid plummeting global demand, Halliburton, the oilfield services giant, on Wednesday announced it will start a mandatory furlough for 3,500 employees. The furlough, which will start Monday, will last up to 60 days and “best position our company in the current environment…” Halliburton said in a statement provided to USA TODAY.
Living ‘shift to shift’
Casey Sexton of Middleton, New Hampshire. said he lost his job as a restaurant server March 17, the day after the state’s governor, Chris Sununu, mandated the closing of restaurants and bars.
Sexton, 34, said he has been calling creditors to let them know he will be unable to pay any of his bills.
“You hear people say they live paycheck to paycheck,’’ he said. “I lived shift to shift. I relied on every single tip.
“I’m very concerned about how I am going to come out of all this when it ends. I’m not sure if that means I’m going to have to file for bankruptcy.’’
Some economists say the largest single wave of layoffs likely occurred last week as about half the states ordered the shutdown of restaurants and bars and scores of other businesses.
“We would likely expect there not to be nearly as many layoffs” in subsequent reports, says Barclays economist Jonathan Millar.
Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics believes claims “will drop over the next few weeks” but remain highly elevated as more businesses cut jobs. He also notes that some states were overwhelmed by applications for benefits last week and many didn’t go through, pushing them into the following week.
In California, among the states experiencing such bottlenecks, Governor Gavin Newsom said the state has gotten 1 million applications in less than two weeks. But on Thursday it reported just 186,000 claims for last week, signaling hundreds of thousands still to come.
Unemployment of 10% from COVID-19?
The outbreak ultimately could trigger about 7.5 million layoffs, largely in the second quarter, as the 3.5% unemployment rate, a 50-year low, climbs above 10%, estimates Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics.
Oxford Economics says it foresees 15 million to 20 million job losses in coming weeks.
Forecasts for last week’s claims varied sharply, from about 1 million to upwards of 4 million,because many states released partial-week reports to media outlets, leading economists to extrapolate weekly tallies for all the states.
Such state reports previewing the figures may not continue. In a recent letter, the Labor Department asked the states to no longer report their totals until Labor releases its national figure on Thursday.
“The data from these reports is monitored closely by policymakers and financial markets to determine appropriate actions in light of fast-changing economic conditions,” Gay Gilbert, the administrator of Labor Department’s Office of Employment, wrote in the letter.
In a statement to USA TODAY, Labor said, “The public must be able to trust in the accuracy, integrity and completeness of the data being reported. Premature release of partial data may give the public an inaccurate picture.”