Nearly three million Americans filed initial claims for unemployment in the week ending May 9, meaning more than 35 million have filed initial claims in the past eight weeks, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Approximately 2.98 million sought unemployment for the first time last week, which is the lowest amount since the week ending March 14. The peak came during the final week in March when 6.9 million initially filed for unemployment. The number of initial filings in the past eight weeks accounts for more than 22 percent of the domestic workforce in March.
The running total of initial filings over the past two months dwarfs any figure in recent U.S. history. By comparison, it took two years for unemployment to reach more than eight million during the Great Recession. The COVID-19 pandemic erased more than 22 million jobs that were added in the past decade.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported last week that 20.5 million jobs were cut in April and that the unemployment rate reached 14.7 percent, the highest since the Great Depression. In that era, unemployment reached nearly 25 percent in 1933.
Of the amount lost in April, 5.5 million were lost in the restaurant industry. In March, 500,000 jobs were lost. According to the BLS, 6.4 million workers were on payroll in the food and drink industry in April, which the National Restaurant Association said was the lowest employment level since May 1989.
According to a survey by the Association in April, 88 percent of restaurant operators said they laid off or furloughed employees since the pandemic began in March and 41 percent said they laid off or furloughed 100 percent of their staff.
According to the Department of Labor, the largest increases in initial claims for the week ending May 2 were in Oklahoma (41,385), Maryland (25,318), New Jersey (16,360), Maine (8,452), and Puerto Rico (4,600).
Jobs are expected to return as more states reopen their economies. More than half of states have either already reopened dining rooms or plan to do so in the coming weeks. Olive Garden parent Darden Restaurants, Chili’s parent Brinker International, and BJ’s Restaurants, are among the full-serve chains that have begun the process of reopening under limited capacity.
The CARES Act boosted weekly unemployment payments by $600 on top of state benefits. The enhancements end in July, but there is expectation that it will be extended. A bill introduced by Democratic leadership in Congress on Tuesday would extend the higher benefits through the end of January.