About 1 in 10 Americans Are Looking For Work

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has shut down entire industries, forced millions of Americans to shelter-in-place, and completely upended the labor market.

According to a U.S. Labor Department report released Thursday, another 6.6 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment claims last week. That brings the total claims to nearly 17 million in the past three weeks, which is about 1 in 10 workers in the labor force. The staggering new figures also mark a historic high as the second largest number of initial unemployment claims on record since the Labor Department started tracking the data in 1967.

Many of those claims were filed by restaurant workers along with healthcare and social assistance employees. California, New York, and Michigan — three of the states suffering most from the pandemic — saw the largest increase in claims last week.

The ongoing surge in filings for unemployment insurance has been exacerbated by self-employed and independent contractors who are now allowed to file for claims under the $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus relief bill enacted last month.

Economists say the numbers will only get worse as up to 20 million people are expected to be out of work by the end of April and the unemployment rate is expected to hit 15% by June.

Meanwhile, some economists say the actual unemployment rates for minorities are probably much worse. Dean Baker, the senior economist at the Center for Economic & Policy Research, told CNN that the true rate is likely 20.7% for African Americans and 18.7% for Hispanic workers.

According to CNN:

About 30% of workers at hotels in 2019 were Hispanic, and another 19% are black, according to the BLS. Restaurants, bars and other food services, which have been particularly hard hit, had 27% of workers last year who were Hispanic, and 13% who were black.


At department stores, most of which have shut down because of the crisis, 19% of employees were black and another 19% were Hispanic. The catchall labor department category that includes temporary workers, custodial help and landscaping services lost 61,000 jobs in the official March labor report. About half of those workers are minorities.

Prior to the global health crisis, the American job market had been strong. In February, the unemployment rate was 3.5%, following 113 straight months of job growth. Recovery from the economic downturn will only be determined by how quickly the novel coronavirus can be contained.