U.S. employers are laying off workers at an unheard-of clip as the coronavirus outbreak plunges the economy into a deep freeze. Some 6.6 million people filed new unemployment insurance claims last week — nearly 20 times a typical week’s tally.
Experts say the figure should be even higher, but some state unemployment systems were so swamped that people couldn’t get through to file a claim. The monthly employment report for March, due on Friday, is likely to be ugly as well.
This will be a recession like no other in memory. Recessions usually start with a financial or economic crisis that prompts consumers to cut their spending; the big job losses follow over time as revenue-starved businesses slash payrolls or close their doors. But with this one, the layoffs are coming right at the start, because of stay-home orders and business restrictions. The New York Times reports.
And it will be the virus, not economic forces, that will determine when a recovery can begin. No one yet knows what that recovery will look like, or how long it will take.
Ron Lieber, the “Your Money” columnist for The Times, spoke to us about the impact of the sweeping job losses. Here are excerpts from the conversation.
What’s the first thing someone who is laid off should do?
Apply for unemployment — and you should keep trying. The new legislation allows for an extra $600 per week of assistance, and that extra money can be enough to make a difference between financial disaster and near financial calamity. And that’s why Congress offered it.
What do you tell people who are struggling to process all this?
It doesn’t look quite like anything we’ve seen before in our lifetime. Trying to plan or make predictions is really hard — and to tell people to embrace that uncertainty is not really helpful. I think the best thing is to talk to as many people as possible who have the same uncertainty that you do.
Will the U.S. economy just bounce back to where it was before, or do you expect lasting changes?
If we continue to believe that capitalism and market economics are the right way to structure our country, then there probably ought to be at least some way our economic activity will revert to some level of normalcy. I would not believe anybody who is trying to predict when that will be.