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Unemployment numbers are way up because of the coronavirus pandemic, and are likely to reach levels not seen since the Great Recession — or perhaps ever. The US Department of Labor's weekly unemployment report released yesterday only covers the week ending ending March 14, the day after Donald Trump declared coronavirus a national emergency, so the increase of 70,000 initial unemployment claims over the previous week, a 33 percent increase, was bad, but it's likely to be overshadowed when Labor releases this week's unemployment numbers next Thursday. A few for-instances, as reported by the Associated Press:

  • Ohio: On Monday and Tuesday alone, 48,000 new claims, compared to 1,825 for the same days last week.
  • Pennsylvania: 70,000 in a single day, "six times the total for the entire previous week."
  • Rhode Island: 18,000 unemployment claims related to coronavirus, up from basically zero the week before
  • Tennessee: Overall unemployment tripled from the prior week.
  • Michigan: Five times as many applications compared to "normal."
  • Minnesota: Over 2,000 unemployment applications per hour, compared to a normal rate of 40-50 an hour.

And the volume of unemployment applications is overwhelming states' computer systems, which have reportedly crashed in New York, New Jersey, and South Carolina. Phone systems were overwhelmed at unemployment offices in Florida and elsewhere. In New York, the Department of Labor asked people to please file by phone in alphabetical order:

That nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach is probably just the liberal media trying to undermine Donald Trump, no worries.


USA Today reports Goldman Sachs estimates this week's total new unemployment filings could be as high as 2.5 million, as restaurants, bars, theaters, and all sorts of other businesses close. If that estimate holds up when the government stats come out next week, that would "mark a nine-fold increase over the pre-virus level, the research firm said."

Oh. But there's a bright side, of sorts?

Goldman economist David Choi acknowledges in a research note that it's possible that a disproportionate share of claims were filed early in the week or that his sample was biased toward states with unusually large increases in claims. Yet even in that case, jobless claims would still total more than 1 million, by far the highest on record.

We really aren't trying to sound like Chicken Little here, but when the economists are looking nervously at the sky, we think that might be a thing to be concerned about.

And as those numbers rise, we can also start worrying about whether state unemployment systems will be able to keep up. The AP reports,

In the U.S., state unemployment trust funds generally are in better financial shape than they were before the last recession. Yet 21 states began the year with less than the amount recommended to remain solvent in an average recession, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report. At the bottom of the solvency list are many of the most populous states — California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Ohio and Massachusetts.

The Washington Post details the frustrations that are already cropping up as people try to navigate what's left of the safety net, and notes that a lot of economists are calling for massive federal help, beyond what's already passed, to keep state unemployment insurance systems solvent. To adopt another metaphor, the economists are backing up nervously and saying to the captain, "You're gonna need a bigger boat," since we're all in it. (Then Trump smashes the radio so we can't call for help.)

"I'm terrified that states aren't recession-ready anymore," said Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. "States have reduced the amount of benefits and access to benefits in a way that means that very few people can apply for unemployment insurance and receive it."

Contractors, tipped workers, full-time students and undocumented workers often do not qualify for unemployment benefits, labor advocates said. Waiters and hotel staff who lose jobs are especially vulnerable, because they tend to move jobs frequently and rely on tips — factors that states handle differently. Plus, many states require applicants to prove they are searching for full-time work, although a few states including Texas have begun waiving the requirements.

And then there are all the fun games corporate America has already played to avoid treating employees like employees, particularly treating them as "contractors," which makes the workers ineligible for unemployment insurance at all. The Post notes that Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Olive Garden, said through spokesperson Rich Jeffers that the chain

has not laid off any employees, though many restaurant workers have had their hours reduced to zero, as mayors and governors order dining rooms to close. The company, he said, is providing emergency pay of up to two weeks to affected employees.

Which is a lot better than nothing, but also not nearly enough, since shutdowns could last for months. Same goes for the proposals Republicans are making. Their big plan involves giving most Americas a single check for $1,200, although the proposal takes special care to kick the poorest Americans in their teeth, reducing their checks to $600 per person, presumably because those lucky duckies qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit and don't contribute anything to the economy that's already screwing them so hard. Oh yes, and let's not forget that Trump is even now still fighting to cut food stamps and eliminate Obamacare.

Ah, but Trump has been talking about maybe sending a thousand bucks to everyone, with maybe another thousand to come later, as long as the long-suffering corporations also get a huge tax cut. He may or may not stick with that, since every other time he's briefly talked about stepping away from the GOP mainstream, he's quickly gotten in line.

Kids, if you're stuck at home with this quarantine — or even if you're not! — today would be a great day to contact the Democrat of your choice and demand they do better than Trump. How about Bernie Sanders's call for $2,000 a month to every American, no means testing, and if you don't like the idea of a small check to the well-off, then we can tax an equivalent amount back from 'em.

Stay sane, wash your hands, and pick up those phones — after you disinfect them. The "B Ark" isn't coming, so we need to save ourselves. We need an FDR, but all we have right now is Chuck Schumer. And of course, there's Elizabeth Warren over there, reminding us she knows every last word to "Happy Days Are Here Again."

[AP / USA Today / Buzzfeed News / WaPo / Common Dreams / Lucky Ducky by Ruben Bolling via WSJ. Never forget!]

Check out Yr Wonkette's best features on the pandemic, like Where Do Little Vaccines Come From?

Remember:

And to keep yourself healthy, get your information from the CDC and the WHO, and don't let any con men sell you miracle cures.

We love you.

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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