Jobless claims soar in nation

WASHINGTON - The number of Americans applying for jobless benefits soared to unprecedented levels last week as new government data put into stark relief the magnitude of the economic pain caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Labor Department said Thursday that nearly 3.3 million people filed for first-time unemployment claims in the week ending last Saturday.

That number was five times greater than in any single weekly period of new filings since record-keeping began in 1967 – and it points to what many expect will be a dramatic increase in the jobless rate, possibly even into double digits later this spring.

The report reflected the widespread shutdown of large sectors of the American economy, with countless restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues and other businesses furloughing employees or slashing their work hours.

"There has been a sharp explosion here in terms of furloughs and layoffs just in the past week, and at a much faster speed than during the Great Recession," said Michael Bernick, former chief of California's Employment Development Department and now a lawyer at San Francisco-based firm of Duane Morris.

Almost every state logged large increases in claims, led by several East Coast states, Ohio, Texas and California, according to filings and estimates by states.

In California alone, more than a million people have applied for unemployment benefits this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

A review of hundreds of early warning layoff notices submitted by employers to various states over the last two weeks show that most of the layoffs are temporary.

Many of the layoffs are at restaurants, but almost every sector of the economy has been hit, including manufacturing firms, transportation and education services. Most businesses say they intend to call their workers back as soon as possible. But for some, it is already too late.

Leafly, a Seattle-based online provider of information for cannabis users, this week announced a permanent layoff of 91 workers, 39% of its workforce. The company attributed it to the financial downturn caused by the coronavirus.

"COVID-19 has rocked global financial markets and put further capital investments we were expecting on pause," said Tim Leslie, chief executive at Leafly, which has employees also in Austin, Texas, and Baltimore.

"This workforce reduction will allow us to be financially self-sufficient so we can continue ... providing cannabis retailers and brands the services they need during this global crisis."