According to the Labor Department’s report on Thursday, initial jobless claims jumped by 70,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000 for the week ended March 14. That means the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits reached its highest level in two and a half years, around the time when a series of hurricanes battered the United States in the span of weeks.
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In a statement, the Labor Department said that last week’s sudden increase in benefit applications was “clearly attributable to impacts from the COVID-19 virus,” which has so far sickened more than 9,400 people and killed at least 150 in the U.S.
“A number of states specifically cited COVID-19 related layoffs, while many states reported increased layoffs in service-related industries broadly and in the accommodation and food services industries specifically,” the release added, “as well as in the transportation and warehousing industry, whether COVID-19 was identified directly or not.”
Before the outbreak, the job market appeared to be on solid footing: Unemployment claims had hovered between about 210,000 and 230,000 a week, but economists are now forecasting a surge in layoffs as many state and local governments have forced temporary closures or significantly reduced operating hours in a variety of industries, from food and beverage to footwear and apparel retail. A number of brands and retailers, from sportswear giant Nike and the Macy’s department store chain to clog maker Crocs, have assured employees that they will be compensated, and in some cases, receive benefits despite such closures.
Yesterday, the Senate passed a multibillion-dollar emergency package that boosts unemployment insurance and guarantees free testing for COVID-19 for Americans. The measure follows congressional approval of a sweeping $8.3 billion spending bill to support preventative efforts and medical research. An additional $1 trillion stimulus package, proposed by the Donald Trump administration on Tuesday, would include $50 billion for the hard-hit airline industry and a small business interruption loan scheme as well as two rounds of direct-check payments to Americans worth up to $500 billion.
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