WASHINGTON (AP) — Signs of renewed business activity are surfacing across the country as states gradually reopen economies and some businesses call a portion of their laid-off staffers back to work. Yet with millions more Americans seeking unemployment aid last week, the U.S. job market remains as bleak as it’s been in decades.
More than 2.4 million laid-off workers filed for jobless benefits last week, the government said Thursday, the ninth straight week of outsize figures since the viral outbreak forced millions of businesses to close their doors and shrink their workforces.
And while the number of weekly applications has slowed for seven straight weeks, they remain immense by any historical standard — roughly 10 times the typical figure that prevailed before the virus struck. Nearly 39 million people have applied for benefits since mid-March.
“There is little evidence that the reopening of the economy has, as yet, led to any sudden snap back in employment,” said Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics.
Nearly half of Americans say that either their incomes have declined or they live with an adult who has lost pay through a job loss or reduced hours, the Census Bureau said in survey data released Wednesday. More than one-fifth of Americans had little or no confidence in their ability to pay the next month’s rent or mortgage on time, the survey found.
Most economists and business leaders say the lifting of restrictions on business activity won’t likely be enough to spur significant hiring in the weeks and months ahead. Surveys suggest that consumers will remain wary of shopping, traveling, eating out or congregating in large groups until a vaccine is available or they’re otherwise confident they can avoid infection.
For now, workers who do return to their jobs expect far fewer customers.
On Tuesday, Phillip Skunza will be back at his job as a waiter and bartender at the Happy Greek restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. Skunza had been laid off in mid-March after the state shuttered all restaurants and bars.
Skunza said his employer expects sales to reach maybe half their pre-virus level. The restaurant has reduced tables and cut barstools from 10 to four. Skunza, 52, expects to bring home only about 50% of what he made before because of fewer tips.
‘When you’re making anywhere between $300 to $500 a week, and that gets cut down to $150 to $250 a week, that’s going to be an issue,” he said.
He said that he’s hopeful of keeping his job and that as business picks up during summer, more workers can be rehired.
During April, U.S. employers shed 20 million jobs, eliminating a decade’s worth of job growth in a single month. The unemployment rate reached 14.7%, the highest since the Depression.