Tupelo • While businesses slowly reopen, the number of unemployed continues to hover in the thousands in Mississippi.
For the week ending May 9, the U.S. Department of Labor said 24,810 Mississippians filed for unemployment benefits. That’s down by more than 5,000 from a week earlier.
And it also marked the fourth consecutive week that jobless filings declined. However, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the forced shutdown of many businesses, nearly 225,000 Mississippians have filed for unemployment benefits as of May 2. An additional 63,000 were added to the rolls alone that week from the previous week.
Nationwide, the number of unemployment claims also has fallen, but still, 2,951,000 filed for the first time. Total is down about 195,000 from a week earlier.
The wave of layoffs has heightened concerns that more government aid is needed to sustain the economy through the deep recession caused by the viral outbreak. Republicans in Congress are locked in a standoff with Democrats, who have proposed trillions more in aid, including for struggling states and localities, beyond the nearly $3 trillion already given to individuals and businesses. Republican leaders say they want to first see how previous aid affects the economy and have expressed skepticism about approving much more spending now.
Roughly 36 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the two months since the coronavirus first forced millions of businesses to close their doors and shrink their workforces, the Labor Department said. An additional 842,000 people applied for aid last week through a separate federal program set up for the self-employed and gig workers.
All told, the figures point to a job market gripped by its worst crisis in decades and an economy that is sinking into a severe downturn. The report suggests the tentative reopening of some businesses in many states has done little to reverse the flow of mass layoffs. Last week’s pace of new applications for aid is four times the record high that prevailed before the coronavirus struck hard in March.
Jobless workers in some states are still reporting difficulty applying for or receiving benefits. These include freelance, gig and self-employed workers, who became newly eligible for jobless aid this year.
In Georgia, one of the first states to partially reopen its economy, the number of unemployment claims rose last week to 241,000. In Florida, which has allowed restaurants to reopen at one-quarter capacity, claims jumped to nearly 222,000, though that state’s unemployment agency has struggled to process claims. Other states that have lifted some restrictions, such as South Carolina and Texas, reported large declines in claims.
President Donald Trump appeared to respond to the report by tweeting, “Good numbers coming out of States that are opening. America is getting its life back!”
The latest jobless claims follow a devastating jobs report last week. The government said the unemployment rate soared to 14.7% in April, the highest rate since the Great Depression, and employers shed a stunning 20.5 million jobs. A decade’s worth of job growth was wiped out in a single month.
Even those figures failed to capture the full scale of the damage. The government said many workers in April were counted as employed but absent from work but should have been counted as temporarily unemployed.
Millions of other laid-off workers didn’t look for a new job in April, likely discouraged by their prospects in a mostly shuttered economy, and weren’t included, either. If all those people had been counted as unemployed, the jobless rate would have reached nearly 24%.
Most economists have forecast that the official unemployment rate could hit 18% or higher in May before potentially declining by summer.
The job market’s collapse has occurred with dizzying speed. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was 3.5%, a half-century low. Employers had added jobs for a record 9½ years. Even in March, unemployment was just 4.4%.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.