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Coronavirus US

US unemployment rate: How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus?

The coronavirus crisis has cost some 36.5 million American jobs in two months with experts warning that figures could peak above the Great Depression in 1933.

Volunteers help people distributing care packages with food donations from the Food Bank for New York City in Brooklyn, New York, New York, USA, 15 May 2020.
Alba VigarayEFE

According to the latest figures from the US Labor Department (as of 14 May), 36.5 million American citizens have filed unemployment claims over the past eight weeks since the coronavirus crisis effectively forced the shutdown of large parts of the United States economy.

The figures have been devastating; the Bureau of Labor Statistics said earlier in May that total non-farm payroll employment had fallen by 20.5 million in April with employment “falling sharply in all major industry sectors.”

The overall unemployment rate shot to 14.7 percent in April, the worst figures on record since monthly jobless statistics began to be compiled in 1948. The Washington Post noted that the single-month job loss statistics represented the wiping out of a whole decade of labor market growth and was roughly equivalent to the total rate of job destruction experienced by the US during the 2007-09 financial crisis.

Trump facing calls to reopen US economy

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus pandemic response during a Cabinet meeting in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 19, 2020.
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President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus pandemic response during a Cabinet meeting in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 19, 2020.Leah MillisREUTERS

The brunt of the unemployment crisis has fallen on unskilled and temporary workers, unauthorized immigrants and those working in the gig economy: Uber and Lyft have both taken a pounding as people have stopped using car services in favour of their feet during a two-month nationwide lockdown that is only now starting to be slowly eased.

The government of US President Donald Trump has faced criticism for pushing to reopen the country prematurely with experts warning of the potential effects on an already hard-pushed health sector if the drive to kick-start the economy leads to a further spike in Covid-19 cases. As of 20 May the US had recorded over 1.5 million cases of the novel coronavirus with over 90,000 fatalities across the country.

However, many citizens have backed Trump’s stance on opening the US for business again as quickly as possible with the White House’s stimulus check programme providing only temporary relief for many of those households eligible to receive the payment.

Illinois Policy has warned that there will be insufficient funding to see the state’s unemployment program past the end of May while others like Florida have struggled to meet the demand for federal benefits from workers in the gig economy, contractors and the self-employed.

US set for Great Depression-era peak - Goldman Sachs

Things are likely to get worse before they get better: Goldman Sachs issued a warning earlier in May that the unemployment rate in the US could peak at 25 percent in 2020, more than at the very height of the Great Depression when the annual jobless figure stood at 24.9 percent in 1933.