By CHRISTOPHER RUGABER and DANICA KIRKA
WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans thrown out of work since the coronavirus outbreak struck two months ago has climbed to nearly 39 million, the government said Thursday.
More than 2.4 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week in the latest wave of layoffs from the outbreak, which has led to nationwide business shutdowns and brought the economy to its knees, the Labor Department reported. That brings the running total to a staggering 38.6 million.
An additional 2.2 million sought aid under a new federal program for self-employed, contract and gig workers, who are now eligible for unemployment benefits for the first time. Those figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations, so they are not included in the total number of applications.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the unemployment rate could peak in May or June at 20% to 25% — a figure unseen since the depths of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
By April, unemployment stood at 14.7%, a figure also unmatched since the days when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was assuring Americans that the only thing to fear was fear itself.
The breathtaking downturn — unprecedented in its speed — has turned up the pressure on politicians to lift the lockdowns that are destroying businesses and livelihoods.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the economy is shrinking at a 38% annual rate in the April-June period, by far the worst quarterly contraction on record.
About 5 million people worldwide have been confirmed infected, and more than 328,000 deaths have been recorded. That includes more than 93,000 in the U.S. and around 165,000 in Europe, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University and based on government data. Experts believe the true toll is much higher.