The Economy Is Ruined. It Didn’t Have to Be This Way.

"For Sale By Owner" and "Closed Due to Virus" signs are displayed in the window of Images On Mack in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., Thursday, April 2, 2020.

"For Sale By Owner" and "Closed Due to Virus" signs are displayed in the window of Images On Mack in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., Thursday, April 2, 2020. AP Photo

 

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COMMENTARY | Almost 10 million Americans have already filed for unemployment benefits. Congress can still act to stem the tide.

For the second straight week, the U.S. workforce set a dismal unemployment record. On Thursday morning, the Labor Department reported that 6.6 million people filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week. That figure is twice as high as the previous record of 3.3 million, set just seven days ago.

This brings the two-week total of initial claims to nearly 10 million. That’s 10 million Americans who have lost their jobs—and, in many cases, their health insurance—in the spiraling chaos of a public-health crisis. Ten million Americans who have been thrust into unemployment-insurance programs, with their company on pause, their start-up ruined, or their business closed, and no clear timeline for reopening. Ten million Americans, many effectively quarantined by local law, simultaneously dealing with sudden confinement and sudden joblessness, separated from their daily habits and prohibited from leaving their apartment to commiserate with colleagues, or seek comfort in the arms of family.

In short, the U.S. is accelerating toward an economic and human disaster unlike anything recorded in American history.

During the Great Recession of 2007–2009, the economy suffered a net loss of approximately 9 million jobs. The pandemic recession has seen nearly 10 million unemployment claims in just two weeks. Some states are convulsing at a rate of one Great Recession every few days. After the financial crash, Hawaii’s unemployment rate peaked at 7.3 percent. In the past week, exactly 7.3 percent of Hawaiian workers filed for unemployment benefits.

Derek Thompson is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, technology, and the media. 

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