As coronavirus rages, official jobless numbers near 33 million
A health care worker works at a COVID-19 testing site sponsored by Community Heath of South Florida at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Clinica Campesina Health Center, during the coronavirus pandemic, July 6 in Homestead, Fla. Both the pandemic and the jobless rate in America are spiraling out of control. Lynne Sladky | AP

WASHINGTON—The official number of unemployed people neared 33 million in the week ending on Independence Day, July 4, as 1,399,699 million more jobless workers sought state benefits and 850,461 asked for federal-only $600 weekly jobless checks.

And in the week ending June 20, one of every four Puerto Ricans was jobless, as were 21% of Nevadans and Hawaiians. Six other states, plus the Virgin Islands had jobless rates above 15%, BLS said. The state-by-state jobless rates lag two weeks behind the numbers of people seeking unemployment aid.

The jobless numbers continue to soar as the nation keeps trying to battle the rampant spread of the coronavirus. It forced shutdowns, social distancing, and business closures. As a result, 32,922,335 people are seeking or getting all sorts of jobless benefits, BLS said.

And the situation could get worse. That’s because states, primarily in the South and West, must re-close businesses and re-establish social controls to try to halt new record-breaking community spread of the virus.

As of 8:30 am on July 9, 3,055,491 people, cumulatively, have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic officially began in the U.S., and 132,310 have died. That’s one-quarter of the world’s positive reports and 24% of worldwide deaths, even though the U.S. has less than 5% of the world’s population.

Those states that reopened too soon—or never closed at all—are seeing coronavirus cases spike. California reopened its beaches for Memorial Day, and its daily caseload has since doubled to just over 10,000. That forced Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to re-impose extreme closure measures.

Louisiana had 250 coronavirus cases per day on June 19. On July 7, it had 1,642.

“Cases continue to rise in Louisiana, which is why we are pausing the state in Phase Two” of staggered re-opening, and adding a crowd limit of 250, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards said June 19. “Louisiana is not ready to move to Phase Three just yet.” The numbers since then show the Pelican State still isn’t ready—especially its young people, Edwards warned.

Republican-run Texas, which never really closed, had 950 daily coronavirus cases on Memorial Day. Now it has nearly ten times as many (9,169). GOP Gov. Greg Abbott now tells all Texans to wear protective masks. Abbott, who runs the nation’s biggest “red” state, was a slavish follower of GOP President Donald Trump’s drive to get the economy moving again, virus or no virus.

And in an indication of how bad joblessness could become, the number of new claims for the state-only jobless benefits increased in one week—from June 27 through July 4–by 67% in New Jersey, 38% in Iowa and 45% in Louisiana and Nevada, calculations from BLS data show.

Joblessness could also rise further as more long-time brick-and-mortar retailers seek bankruptcy protection, firing workers along the way. Ditto airlines. Brooks Brothers became the latest retail chain to go broke, following J.C. Penney, J. Crew, and Neiman-Marcus. United followed Delta in declaring it would lay off 40% of its 90,000 workers when special federal airline aid runs out after Sept. 30.

The difference between the two carriers, however, is that red-state anti-union Delta’s bosses want to dump their workers now, asking them to take up to a year of voluntary unpaid leave. That demand is contrary to the Cares Act, which funneled extra billions of dollars to the airlines, contingent on the carriers keeping workers on the job. Lobbying and congressional contacts by the Association of Flight Attendants and its president, Sara Nelson, got that condition into that jobless aid law.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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