Jobless Numbers Are ‘Eye-Watering’ but Understate the Crisis

Nearly a month after Washington rushed through an emergency package to aid jobless Americans, millions of laid-off workers have still not been able to apply for those benefits — let alone receive them — because of overwhelmed state unemployment systems.

Across the country, states have frantically scrambled to handle a flood of applications and apply a new set of federal rules even as more and more people line up for help. On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that another 4.4 million people filed initial unemployment claims last week, bringing the five-week total to more than 26 million.

“At all levels, it’s eye-watering numbers,” Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank Securities, said. Nearly one in six American workers has lost a job in recent weeks.

Delays in delivering benefits, though, are as troubling as the sheer magnitude of the figures, he said. Such problems not only create immediate hardships, but also affect the shape of the recovery when the pandemic eases.