Unemployment claims rose by 3.2 million last week, far from the recent high of 6.9 million but still at record levels.
The Department of Labor reported its latest data on weekly unemployment filings on Thursday, its last of such reports before April’s jobs numbers are published Friday. The Friday report will give the most comprehensive view yet of damage the coronavirus and subsequent government shutdowns have done to the U.S. workforce.
Thursday’s numbers move the total number of unemployment claims filed since mid-March, when states began locking down to prevent the spread of the virus, above 33 million. The weekly numbers have trended downward for two weeks now, however, signaling that job losses may be leveling off after an unprecedented initial spike, and some workers who lost jobs or income may be able to rejoin the workforce as states begin reopening.
The current spate of layoffs and furloughs has never been seen before in the U.S. Some experts suspect that the real unemployment rate after accounting for eligible workers who have not applied for unemployment or whose applications were lost may be around Great Depression levels or higher.
State’s such as Georgia, Colorado, and Texas are beginning to ease lockdown measures and allow businesses and employees deemed “non-essential” during the pandemic to begin operating again. Other states, such as New Mexico, are still under heavy-handed emergency orders.
The lockdowns have sparked protests across the United States. Thousands of protesters have marched through state capitals demanding that the state governments loosen restrictive regulations and allow struggling businesses and families to return to work.
Some states have been receptive to such demonstrations while others, such as New York, had little impact. New York City is the epicenter for the virus in the U.S. and comprises roughly half of the state’s total cases and deaths from the coronavirus. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has continued to keep strict measures in place over the entire state.
The protests have not been limited to demonstrations. In Maine and Texas, two states in the midst of lifting restrictions, business owners have been punished by state officials for defying shutdown orders and reopening their businesses. Maine restaurateur Rick Savage, owner of Sunday River Brewing Co., lost his health and liquor license last week after reopening against Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ emergency shutdown order.
In Texas, Salon À la Mode owner Shelley Luther was sentenced to a week in jail and fined thousands of dollars for reopening her business. The Dallas judge gave her a chance to avoid the punishments by admitting wrongdoing and apologizing to the elected officials whose orders she violated, but Luther refused.
“I have hair stylists that are going hungry because they’d rather feed their,” Luther said at her court hearing. “So, sir, if you think the law is more important than getting fed, then please go ahead with your decision, but I am not going to shut the salon.”
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