So many people are applying for unemployment benefits in New York State, it briefly crashed the claims website Monday. It's an apt metaphor for the economic havoc the coronavirus pandemic is causing as workers fall ill, businesses close their doors and consumers hole up to avoid infection.
Most of the jobs snuffed out by the outbreak are those that have been created in the most recent economic expansion: Modestly paid hourly jobs that offer few benefits, such as retail workers, cooks, waiters, bartenders and hotel staff.
The coronavirus recession hit Austin Harvey, 23, this Saturday, when the normally packed Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, restaurant where he waits tables was suddenly empty. Now that the restaurant — along with all eateries in Pennsylvania — is moving to delivery-only, there are far fewer shifts to split among workers. His pay — roughly $16 an hour including tips — has fallen by nearly half. But the $1,400 he spends on rent, utilities, student loans and his car payment isn't shrinking.
"It's stressful," Harvey told CBS MoneyWatch. "Everybody who is working and an adult in my family works for the restaurant industry."
"I had a moment of panic as soon as I woke up today," he added, "and I checked my bank account and said, 'There's not enough in there for rent and for student loans.'"
Harvey spent $50 on groceries on Monday and has about enough food in the house to last two weeks. He's looked for side gigs in online writing to supplement his income. Meantime, he hopes that lender Sallie Mae, which holds some of his loans, will consider deferring payments. But for now he's in a holding pattern figuring out how to survive financially on a greatly reduced paycheck.
"The uncertainty is the ultimate stressor in this situation," he said
Pennsylvania is one of at least seven states telling restaurants to close its doors to patrons, discouraging crowds in order to contain the coronavirus. The closures, which are already hitting thousands of workers' paychecks, are expected to lead to layoffs for, according to an estimate from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That would wipe out all U.S. job gains over the last two years.
Big drops in job listings already
The impact of the virus on the labor market is already evident in job listings. ZipRecruiter, an online job marketplace, recently saw listings for restaurant and hotel jobs drop about 25% from their level a year ago. Catering jobs dropped nearly 40%. (Aviation, the, has seen a 43% drop.)
Fully one-tenth of the jobs created in the current economic expansion has been in the leisure and hospitality sector.
"This is an industry that's been largely responsible for drawing people into the labor force, off the sidelines," said ZipRecruiter labor economist Julia Pollak. "And that's now in jeopardy. This industry is going to be hit really hard, and possibly for a long time."
For the broader economy, the concern is that sudden job losses would lead to a sharp fall in consumer spending, which accounts for roughly two-thirds of economic activity in the U.S. An ensuing downturn could last through the end of the year, IHS Markit predicts.
Pantheon Macroeconomics forecasts that overall U.S. economic growth will shrink a massive 10% between April and June, threatening recession. "The global recession is here and now," added S&P Global, while Morgan Stanley predicted global growth to be at its lowest level since the 2008 financial crisis.
The coronavirus has already pushed U.S. factories into recession, according to one measure. Data on Monday from the Empire State Manufacturing Survey, a gauge of manufacturing activity in New York, fell to its lowest level since the financial crisis.
"Coronavirus represents a multi-layered shock that will cause supply disruptions, choke off demand and tighten financial conditions. We expect manufacturing to remain in a slump over the coming months," Oxford Economics told investors in a note.
In New York City, hotels are expected to be two-thirds empty through June, and real estate agents should expect to lose a fifth of their sales, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said. That could amount to a $3.2 billion drop in tax revenue in the nation's largest city.
"Every time we blink, it's changing"
The speed of the downturn has taken many by surprise. When Susan Pitzer was on vacation in DisneyWorld last week, the parks "were absolutely packed," she said. "There was no one having any animosity, no anxiousness, no anything." Then, on Thursday, Disney announced it wasfor the month, and Pitzer had to scramble to get home to Ohio.
"It all unraveled," said Pitzer, a travel agent. After landing at 1 a.m. Friday, she spent the weekend on the phone canceling trips for 22 clients who were scheduled to fly to Orlando in the second half of March.
Most of her clients, who typically spend from $4,000 to $7,000 on a weekly Disney package, ended up canceling as they wait to see when the resort will reopen.
"I would love to say I could predict from previous experience what will happen, but I have no idea," Pitzer said. "Every time we blink, it's changing."