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3 Million Initial Jobless Claims Last Week Show Severity of Labor Market Collapse

Initial jobless claims came in higher than expected in the week ended May 02, with 2.98 million claims vs. 2.5 million expected and 3.1 million the week before. Continuing claims, which measure the number of people receiving claims after an initial week of aid, came in at 22.8 million, 456,000 higher than the week before.

Key Takeaways

  • Claims have likely peaked following nearly 7 million claims in one week during March.
  • 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits over the past 8 weeks.
  • Continuing claims, which lags a week behind initial claims, came in at 22 million.

The labor market has suffered massive losses over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, with large portions of the US economy shut down. The services sector, which depends heavily on in-person transactions and non-essential purchases, was seriously affected. 20.5 million jobs were lost in April, and over 5 million of those were in the service sector which contracted last month for the first time since the Great Recession.

83% of the jobs lost in April were furloughed, meaning workers will likely return to them when the lockdown procedures are lifted. However, the schedule for reopening the US economy and beginning the recovery of the labor market is unclear. US President Donald Trump reiterated earlier this week that schools and businesses should reopen, but medical professionals warn of the dangers of reopening too early.

Leading US medical expert Dr. Anthony Fauci pointed out to the US senate that the official coronavirus death toll underestimates the true figures, and warned that it will climb even higher if people abandon social distancing. “There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control. Not only leading to some suffering and death, but it could even set you back on the road to get economic recovery.”

Expert Outlook

Economist Keith Hall commented that the declining jobless claims are likely forming a trend, indicating that the worst is over.“The numbers are very high, but they’re stepping down every week, and I see no reason why that decline in filings wouldn’t continue. Employers are likely poised to bring people back, but right now we’re in a holding pattern.”

However, New York governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a law to prevent corporations from misusing government relief funds, citing the use of tax bailouts during the 2007 – 2009 financial crisis to pay bonuses for bank executives. Cuomo warned of the possibility that corporations will not honor the furloughs entirely, saying "These corporations are going to use this pandemic to lay off workers.”

Market Reaction

Gold prices have caught a bid following the release of yet more layoffs in the US labor market. Spot gold last traded at $1,733.05/oz, up 0.94% with a high of $1,733.22/oz and a low of $1,709.86/oz. Gold prices are likely being buoyed upwards by yesterday’s volatile stock markets, leading to some investors to turn to gold as a safe haven asset. It’s unlikely that the jobless claims data is having a major impact, despite the massive scale of job losses, as the markets have become accustomed to seeing millions of losses each week.