Roughly 3 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday, May 14, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to unleash widespread economic havoc on an already depleted U.S. workforce.
The new applications for aid add to the total 36.5 million workers that have sought to receive weekly unemployment checks in the past eight weeks, according to the new federal data, erasing years of economic gains and threatening lasting devastation to the country that rivals even the Great Depression.
There is now increasing tension between President Donald Trump and public health officials over how quickly to try and restart parts of the economy, with Trump on Thursday alleging that some Democrats are trying to slow the process down in order to hurt him politically.
The dour numbers arrive a week after the Labor Department officially registered the country's April unemployment rate at an historic 14.7%. Job losses in that period were roughly double than those experienced during the financial crisis between 2007 and 2009, experts said.
It also comes as a slew of states begin the fraught process of restarting local economic activity, despite indications from public-health officials that it may be too soon to lift restrictions seen as critical toward arresting the spread of a pandemic that has already killed more than 83,000 Americans. On Wednesday, Republican legislators in Wisconsin convinced the state's Supreme Court to strike down a recent extension of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers's stay-at-home order. Evers later blasted the decision, stressing it threatens to "throw our state into chaos."
The efforts to reopen businesses in shuttered cities and states — pitting public health against economic recovery — could restore some jobs that had previously been lost. The possibility led Trump last week to predict a swift economic recovery, telling reporters: "Those jobs will all be back, and they'll be back very soon."
On Wednesday, though, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell offered a dire warning about the U.S. economy, indicating further devastation is possible in the absence of more stimulus from Congress.
"Additional fiscal support could be costly, but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery," Powell said in a speech hosted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "This tradeoff is one for our elected representatives, who wield powers of taxation and spending."
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The Washington Post's Heather Long contributed to this report.
This article was written by Tony Romm, a reporter for The Washington Post.