2.4 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, bringing a 9-week total to 38 million

Posted at 8:34 AM, May 21, 2020
  • New figures from the Department of Labor shows that 2.4 million Americans filed initial claims for unemployment last week.
  • 38 million Americans have filed such claims since March.
  • Surveys suggest these numbers under represent the number of people who lost their jobs.
  • The stock market continues to recover despite bleak unemployment outlook.

According to new figures released Thursday by the Department of Labor, 2.4 million people filed initial claims for unemployment for the week ending May 16. That brings a nine-week total — dating back to when states began closing non-essential businesses amid the pandemic — to 38 million initial claims for unemployment.

The weekly figure remains historically high. Prior to the pandemic, the Department of Labor had never recorded more than one million initial claims for unemployment in a single week. At least two times that have filed for unemployment each week for the last nine weeks.

Typically, experts use the figure as a benchmark to determine how many people lost their jobs. However, evidence suggests that the Department of Labor's figures undercount the number of Americans who have lost their jobs.

To be counted, Americans who lose their jobs must file for unemployment benefits. However, surveys show that millions of Americans either gave up trying to apply for unemployment — either because they didn't qualify, or because state's antiquated systems have been overrun by those seeking benefits. Thousands more didn't even try because they figured it would be more difficult.

While high unemployment figures remain a big red flag for the American economy, the stock market has been steadily regaining the losses it experienced in February and March. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has recovered more than half of its pandemic-related losses, and has risen nearly 6,000 points since its previous low on March 23.

Markets have been buoyed by historical efforts by the Federal Reserve to keep big businesses afloat, and the hope of further stimulus packages from Congress.