What would you think if I told you that 3,839,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week—and it’s sort of good news? From mid-March to now, we’ve seen roughly 30 million people file for unemployment benefits. After reports of over six million filing, then going down to around five million, the recent report of under four million looks somewhat less dreadful.
The recent total unemployment numbers are almost too large to comprehend. It’s especially jarring since up until recently the United States economy boasted over 100-plus straight months of uninterrupted record-setting job growth. Once the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, businesses were forced to close and people told to stay home. The health crisis quickly caused a crashing economy and collapsing job market.
For more than a decade, the U.S. was doing great with a 3% unemployment rate. To put this number into perspective, economists say that 5% unemployment is considered full employment. That number represents the amount of people who—statistically—would be in between jobs due to normal events and not attributed to any structural problems.
Sadly, the coronavirus has destroyed all of the jobs created since the 2008 financial crisis. We’ve gone from better-than-full employment to an estimated 15 to 20% rate of unemployment. This frighteningly high level is not too far behind the 25% seen at the height of the Great Depression.
We now have over 30 million people who have filed for unemployment in less than two months—and this doesn’t even give the full picture. State unemployment offices have said that they’ve been so bombarded with claims that they simply can’t keep up. Clearly, there are more people out of work than what’s been counted. People are complaining that they’ve filed for benefits, but haven’t received anything.
There are other factors that lead us to believe that the unemployment numbers are higher than what’s officially been reported. Conveniently, the government doesn’t count those who have already finished collecting unemployment benefits that haven’t found new jobs. These folks disappear from the records. Nor does the government account for people who’ve given up looking for a job, as they couldn’t find one. The statistics neglect to reflect the vast amount of people who are in jobs far beneath their experiences, skills, education, credentials and salary levels just to put food on the table.
The U.S. gross domestic product—a standard measure of our economy—fell by nearly 5% over the first quarter, and economists think things will get worse. The first wave of unemployment hit the retail shopping, restaurant, hotels, airlines, travel and leisure sectors. It’s anticipated that white-collar professionals, state and government employees will be next in line.
There could be a positive turnaround. Twenty states are slated to start slowly reopening their economies and attempting to get back to normal. Theoretically, there should be a big pent-up demand that would be released—from getting haircuts to going out to restaurants, taking a vacation to decompress, getting a nice cup of coffee to purchasing a new car or house that’s been put off. Obviously, a reemergence of the virus could stifle this new beginning.
It’s hard to do, but try not to let these large numbers discourage you from looking for a new job.
You are dealing with a lot of issues—ranging from homeschooling your children to working from home and caring for sick family members.
If you can find the time, try to start laying the groundwork to finding a new job. Contact co-workers, former colleagues, college alumni, family, friends, old acquaintances and neighbors. Ask for help and job leads. It may feel awkward, but having a strong diversified network of people championing your cause will help you once the wheels of commerce start spinning again.
If you’re able to get the attention of recruiters, submit lots of résumés to appropriate job listings and have a wide supportive network, you’ll be in good shape when hiring begins again.
America has a history of resilience. We’ve faced numerous difficult times in the past and always persevere. This is yet another turbulent time period that may last for a while, but just like we’ve done in the past, we’ll get through it and, ultimately, see better days ahead of us.