Weekly unemployment numbers hit a record but experts say many jobs 'will come back'


A record number of American workers filed for unemployment benefits this week amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to new data from the Department of Labor.  Nearly 3.3 million workers sent in applications nationwide, an increase of more than 3 million from last week — and almost double what experts were expecting.

The previous record for weekly claims was 695,000, set in 1982 when tight monetary policies pushed the U.S. into a recession. In March 2009, at the height of the Great Recession, the number reached 665,000.

"This explosion of first-time claims for unemployment benefits, topping 3 million, demonstrates the toll unprecedented efforts to contain the deadly coronavirus outbreak take on the job market," Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate, said in a statement.

He and others warn that unemployment figures may get worse before they get better. But economists generally expect the economy to come roaring back later this year as the outbreak subsides. Many workers currently filing for unemployment may only be temporarily furloughed, for example, and can return to work once social distancing and quarantine protocols are lifted.

"It is reasonable to expect that some, perhaps many, but not all, of these jobs will come back once we venture back into public," Hamrick said.

What to do if you've lost your job

For workers who have lost their jobs or had their income disrupted, the focus is on how to cover expenses like rent or mortgage payments and groceries. And it's important to stay centered.

Before you do anything else, "breathe," says Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster. Remember that you're not alone. Recent Monster polling shows that 80% of workers are worried about their job security because of the coronavirus, she points out.

Next, determine your eligibility and file for unemployment benefits.

Those usually provide temporary financial assistance to workers who have lost their job through no fault of their own. More people affected by outbreak-related layoffs and downsizing will also be eligible for unemployment insurance thanks to new federal legislation, and the $2 trillion stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump includes a provision that would include an additional $600 per week for four months for some workers.

Further financial assistance should be coming in a few weeks, too, as the federal government is preparing to send out stimulus checks that will give $1,200 to adults earning less than $75,000 per year and $2,400 to married couples earning less than $150,000, as well as $500 for each child. 

In the meantime, if you need to find work to keep up with your bills, Salemi suggests looking at other industries that may have been able to, so far, avoid layoffs, as well as remote opportunities. Don't forget about side hustles you can try from home, too.

Contact your friends, family members, and former co-workers. "Reach out to colleagues and schedule a call," she says. You may be able to get assistance, or give it: "Try to be a helper as well — you may have connections [you can] introduce them to."

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