The Unemployment Numbers Are Terrifying. But We Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.
Published in The Washington Post
on April 2, 2020
Thursday’s report that 6.6 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week is scary enough. Economic projections and the experience of other countries so far show we ain’t seen nothing yet.
Combined with last week’s figures, more than 10 million Americans filed for unemployment compensation during March. That’s nearly twice as many people as were unemployed in February and is surely an underestimate of the true number, because many self-employed and gig workers don’t qualify for benefits. The unemployment rate was a half-century low 3.5 percent in February, but it is already likely more than 10 percent and rising fast.
The data from Israel is even worse and gives us a glimpse into our future. The country’s unemployment rate is now 24.9 percent, up from only 4 percent the month before the government instituted social distancing and lockdown policies to battle the coronavirus. The United States hasn’t seen rates that high since the depths of the Great Depression, but it’s not inconceivable we could be there in just a couple of weeks.
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Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.