Unemployment began to rise in mid-March across the nation as states began putting restrictions into place to control the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve so as not to overburden an already stressed health-care system.
Like most areas of the country, Mississippi started to ask government agencies and businesses to send home non-essential employees around that time. Gov. Tate Reeves signed his first executive order to that effect on March 17.
Since that time, beginning with the week ending March 21, Mississippi began seeing a steep climb in new unemployment claims. Through the week ending April 25, more than 200,000 Mississippians have filed new unemployment claims. That figure is on top of the nearly 67,500 Mississippians already unemployed in March.
For the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, an agency accustomed to fewer than 1,000 new claims a month, it meant dramatically increasing and training new staff while also increasing its hours of operation. Regardless, the complaints about hours-long hold times and other issues haven’t stopped, and Gov. Reeves continues to promise improvement.
Across the nation, 3.8 million people filed new unemployment claims during the week ending April 25, bringing the total number of new claims during the crisis to more than 30 million. The weekly figures were down by about 600,000 from the previous week; however, the four-week moving average is more than 5 million new claims per week.
“The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 12.4% for the week ending April 18, an increase of 1.5 percentage points from the previous week’s revised rate,” the Department of Labor stated in its April 30 release. “This marks the highest level of the seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate in the history of the seasonally adjusted series.”
More than 22% of the American labor force is out of work, according to Forbes, or about 10% of all Americans.
“For perspective, jobless claims over the past six weeks are more than five times the worst stretch of the Great Recession” of 2008 and 2009, wrote Barron’s, adding, “Job losses of this magnitude translate to an unemployment rate of about 25%.
During the Great Depression, some 15 million Americans, about 25% of the nation’s work force then, were unemployed in 1933.
Unlike either of those events, with the COVID-19 crisis, the federal government almost immediately began to pump money into the economy when it was clear there would be massive unemployment. It made loans available to businesses to keep paying their employees and fattened benefits for those out of work. Now, part-time workers, the self-employed and gig workers are eligible for benefits, something that has never happened.
That spending, and the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented intervention into the economy, has kept the stock market from bottoming out. After a dramatic drop from mid-February through late March, the market regained about half its ground in April on hopeful news including that some states were ready to re-open for business and that an antiviral, remdesivir, was showing promise as a treatment for COVID-19.See a typo? Report it here.