TUPELO • After falling for four consecutive weeks, the number of Mississippians filing for unemployment benefits drifted higher, but at a rate that would be deemed “flat.”

For the week ending May 16, the U.S. Department of Labor said 23,697 Mississippians filed for jobless benefits. That’s up by just 79 compared to the 23,618 who filed a week earlier. The May 9 figures were adjusted downward by about 1,200 as well.

Currently more than 188,000 Mississippians are receiving unemployment benefits. That’s down about 20,000 from a week before.

Across the nation, however, another 2.43 million applied for unemployment benefits. While the weekly numbers continue to decline, the past two months have seen jobless rolls swell to 38.6 million.

The latest figures do not mean 38.6 million people are now out of work. Some have been called back in recent weeks, and others have landed new jobs. But the vast majority are still unemployed.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 17.2 percent for the week ending May 9, an increase of 1.7 percentage points from the previous week’s revised rate.

The number of weekly applications has slowed for seven straight weeks, and last week the figures declined in 38 states and the District of Columbia. Yet they remain immense – roughly 10 times the typical figure before the crisis struck.

And the continuing rise shows that even though all states have slowly begun reopening, the outbreak is still doing damage to businesses and destroying jobs.

“While the steady decline in claims is good news, the labor market is still in terrible shape,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said over the weekend that the unemployment rate could peak in May or June at 20% to 25% – a level unseen since the depths of the Great Depression.

As of April, unemployment stood at 14.7%, a figure also unmatched since the 1930s. And the true rate is even higher, because millions of Americans weren’t officially counted as unemployed since they weren’t looking for a new job, presumably because nearly everything was shut down anyway.

Across the U.S., some companies have begun to rehire their laid-off employees as states have eased restrictions on movement and commerce. Last week, the three major U.S. automakers, plus Toyota and Honda, recalled roughly 130,000 of their factory employees for the first time in two months.

Still, major employers continue to cut jobs. Uber said this week that it will lay off 3,000 more employees because demand for rides has plummeted. Digital publishers Vice, Quartz and BuzzFeed, magazine giant Conde Nast and the owner of The Economist magazine announced job cuts last week.

Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont, said the most recent layoffs may be particularly worrisome because they are happening even as states are reopening. That could mean many companies have little hope of a substantial economic recovery anytime soon and still feel a need to cut jobs.

“There’s a high probability that those layoffs could persist for longer than those that were a function of (businesses) just being closed,” Stanley said.

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