The speed and scale of the job losses are without precedent. In just two weeks, the pandemic has left nearly 10 million Americans out of work, more than in the worst months of the last recession. Until last month, the worst week for unemployment filings was 695,000 in 1982.
“What usually takes months or quarters to happen in a recession is happening in a matter of weeks,” said Michelle Meyer, chief U.S. economist for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
The latest gauge of the pandemic’s economic devastation came as the virus itself kept up its relentless spread. More than a million cases — and more than 50,000 deaths — have been reported around the world.
In the United States, emerging hot spots outside New York include Louisiana, where cases jumped 43 percent in a day, bringing the total to more than 9,000. Michigan also had a spike, with the state reporting more than 9,000 cases, most in the Detroit area.
Even the stunning figures on jobless claims are an incomplete reflection of how fully the pandemic has brought commerce to a halt. Many people who have lost jobs or income did not initially qualify for benefits. Others, encountering state unemployment offices that were overwhelmed by the deluge of claimants, were unsuccessful in filing.
Congress has stepped in with a $2 trillion emergency outlay that aims to keep both families and businesses solvent. But possible hitches are surfacing. Banks and other lenders who are meant to play a crucial role in a lending program for small businesses say they still await information they need to take part, and they are bracing for a flood of demand.
In any case, economists say the vast federal spending plan can, at best, limit the damage — and may not even be enough to do that, as the tendrils of the pandemic reach deeper into the American economy.
The Congressional Budget Office said on Thursday that it expected unemployment to top 10 percent for the second quarter of 2020 — as high as the peak in the last recession — and to remain at 9 percent at the end of 2021. In February, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, a half-century low.
The impact was initially concentrated in tourism, hospitality and related industries. But now the pain is spreading much more widely. The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday that the manufacturing sector, which had recently begun to recover from last year’s trade war, was contracting again. Data from the employment site ZipRecruiter shows a steep drop in job postings even in industries usually insulated from recessions, like education and health care.
Law firms, technology start-ups and other white-collar employers that were initially able to keep workers on payroll…