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Maryland unemployment rises to 607K as fewer file new claims

A man looks at the closed sign in front of Illinois Department of Employment Security in Chicago, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

A man looks at the closed sign in front of Illinois Department of Employment Security in Chicago, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

More than 51,000 people applied for first-time unemployment benefits in the last week, according to data released by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The 51,108 first-time claims bring the state’s unemployment total to 607,788 in the last nine weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The claims are more than 14,000 fewer than the previous week but still more than four times higher than the largest number of claims filed during any week of the great recession.

Claims by workers traditionally covered by unemployment outpaced those not usually covered 2-1. Independent contractors and so-called gig workers who would not normally be eligible for benefits can now apply under an expanded federal program.

Nationally, more than 2.4 million people applied for benefits, bringing the total to more than 38 million Americans out of work.

The number of weekly applications nationally has slowed for seven straight weeks. Yet the figures remain breathtakingly high — 10 times higher than normal before the crisis struck.

It shows that even though all states have begun reopening over the past three weeks, employment has yet to snap back and the outbreak is still damaging businesses and destroying jobs.

“While the steady decline in claims is good news, the labor market is still in terrible shape,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said over the weekend that U.S. unemployment could peak in May or June at 20% to 25%, a level last seen during the depths of the Great Depression almost 90 years ago. Unemployment in April stood at 14.7%, a figure also unmatched since the 1930s.

Over 5 million people worldwide have been confirmed infected by the virus, and about 330,000 deaths have been recorded, including about 94,000 in the U.S. and around 165,000 in Europe, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University and based on government data. Experts believe the true toll is significantly higher.

Across the U.S., some companies have begun to rehire their laid-off employees as states have eased restrictions on movement and commerce. On Monday, more than 130,000 workers at the three major American automakers, plus Toyota and Honda, returned to their factories for the first time in two months.

Still, major employers continue to cut jobs. Uber said this week that it will lay off 3,000 more employees because demand for rides has plummeted. Digital publishers Vice, Quartz and BuzzFeed, magazine giant Conde Nast and the owner of The Economist magazine announced job cuts last week.

Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont, said the latest layoffs may be particularly worrisome because they are happening even as states reopen. That could mean many companies see little hope of a substantial economic recovery anytime soon and still feel a need to cut jobs.

“There’s a high probability that those layoffs could persist for longer than those that were a function of (businesses) just being closed,” Stanley said.

The latest figures do not mean 38.6 million people are out of work. Some have been called back, and others have landed new jobs. But the vast majority are still unemployed.

An additional 1.2 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week under a federal program that makes self-employed, contractor and gig workers eligible for the first time. But those figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations, so the government doesn’t include them in the overall number of applications.

Alexis Weber, laid off from her job as a bartender at an Atlanta restaurant, said it was a struggle to secure unemployment benefits — she filed on April 1 and had to wait until early May to get her first payment. She is not sure when her employer will want her back, or if she will want to return.

“Social distancing doesn’t really apply very well to the hospitality business,” Weber said. “I don’t feel safe returning right now.”

One rehired worker, Norman Boughman, received an email last week from his boss at a second-hand clothing store in Richmond, Virginia, where he worked part time, asking him to return. But even with a mask, he worries about his health.

“We’re having to sort through people’s things, and I feel like that puts us at a higher risk,” he said.

Daily Record government affairs reporter Bryan P. Sears and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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