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Unemployment claims soar 33% as coronavirus hits home

Single mom struggles amid coronavirus crisis
Single mom struggles amid coronavirus crisis 04:21

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits surged to their highest level in over two years, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday.

In the week ending March 14, workers filed 281,000 jobless claims, a jump of 70,000 from the previous week. This is the highest level for initial claims since September 2, 2017, when applications for aid reached 299,000. The 33% jump from the week before is the highest one-week increase since 1992.

The latest figure likely underestimates the true number of newly unemployed workers. Many states reported a surge in layoffs in just the last few days, as many restaurants, bars, hotels, gyms, malls and other businesses closed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus

"This is a small preview of the dramatic surge in claims that we're likely to see next week," economists at Oxford Economics said in a note. "Anecdotal data reported by some states point to a rise in claims above 1.2 million, double the previous record set in 1982."

Travel industry hit hard by coronavirus 02:30

It takes anywhere from two to four weeks for a laid-off worker to show up in federal unemployment claims data, Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at global accounting firm RSM told CBS MoneyWatch. During the current economic expansion, workers file an average of 243,000 jobless claims per week, he said.

What's more, many people who recently lost work won't show up in the official unemployment figures. Uber and Lyft drivers, many of whom have lost much of their business as Americans stay put, won't be eligible to receive compensation because they are classified as independent contractors. Actors, tour guides and fitness instructors are among the many other so-called gig workers who've lost business during the crisis but who are ineligible for unemployment benefits.

As many as 4 million hospitality workers could lose their jobs this summer, according to an estimate from outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that as many as 3 million workers could be laid off by this summer. The Travel Industry Association estimates 4.6 million workers in that field alone will lose their jobs this year.

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