The Labor Department announced Thursday that more than 6.6 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week. That brings the two-week total to almost 10 million. It's a stunning, heart-stopping, stomach-churning, unprecedented number. Prior to the coronavirus shutdowns, the worst week for unemployment filings was 695,000 in 1982. The outbreak has erased more jobs than the grimmest months of the Great Recession.

The economic damage is spreading as quickly and viciously as the virus itself. Tourism, hospitality, theaters, and restaurants were the first to get hit, but now other industries, some of which normally weather economic downturns, are feeling the pain. Loss of revenue has caused so-called “white collar" employers to lay off workers at law firms and tech start-ups.

From the New York Times:

"People are being way too sanguine about a lot of the white-collar industries," said Martha Gimbel, an economist and labor market expert at Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative. "This thing is going to come for us all."

The Times interviewed Erica Battle, an education consultant in Nashville. A few weeks ago, she was preparing for April, her busiest month. Then the schools closed, moving to online distance learning, and her business evaporated. She and her husband are already trying to cut expenses and deferred their mortgage payments. No one is prepared for the economic world to suddenly stop spinning.

There's also the story of Elizabeth Mora, who was struck by the coronavirus asteroid. She'd moved from Utah to Las Vegas, Nevada, a few weeks ago for a new position at MGM Resorts. She was furloughed after just a few days on the job, and the hotel where she stayed as part of her relocation package closed it doors. She's now living out of a suitcase at a friend's house, just trying to survive.

[Mora] is applying for any job she can find and briefly considered selling home-baked bread — until she discovered that the local grocery stores had no more flour.

Jesus Christ, everything's terrible. There's absolutely no walking on sunshine.

Frank Crumit: A Tale Of The Ticker (1929 Stock Market Song) youtu.be

This is why I've personally been annoyed with a lot of the videos and social media posts from wealthy celebrities that treat the economic shutdown as a “staycation." The only sacrifice we have to make to fight the coronavirus is to stay home and watch Netflix! But regular people are worrying about paying for cable and keeping their homes. It's hard to get lost in a good book when you've lost your job or your small business. You're too busy checking on WebMD to confirm whether your shortness of breath is a symptom of general anxiety or COVID-19. We're all trapped in our homes, watching the world collapse. It's no time for gardening or craft projects. It's more like a horror movie and the creepy line from the trailer is Gimbel's warning: "This thing is going to come for us all."

The big dream was that this is all temporary, and we are just pressing pause on the economy. We can then resume normal life again after the curve is flattened. The problem is that expansive layoffs and business failures make a quick recovery less likely. The $2 trillion stimulus package was supposed to help, but that's starting to look like a bucket to contain a flood. In New York, the state unemployment system is so strained, people have to wait days if not a full week to apply for benefits.

Economic forecasters once thought the country could avoid a recession. Now they are predicting a collapse that ranks with the worst periods of the Great Depression, when fully a quarter of the country was out of work. (No official unemployment rate has been released, but it's suspected to be 10 percent, up from February's 3.5.) I prefer to experience the 1930s only through Fred and Ginger movies.

Public service announcement: Please file for unemployment as soon as possible, as many states won't backdate the week you applied; this includes self-employed people, who were specifically added to eligibility. And if you're self-employed or a gig worker, the stimulus for small businesses (loans that are turned into grants if you spend them on health care premiums or payroll, including for yourself) includes you too. Call your local bank. You can also still sign up for Obamacare; it's just as painful as Trump can make it.

[The New York Times]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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