US layoffs climb to 41 million, despite business reopenings

May 28, 2020
A Party City employee delivers balloons to a customer curbside, Wednesday, May 27, 2020, in Oceanside, N.Y. Long Island has become the latest region of New York to begin easing restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus as it enters the first phase of the state's four-step reopening process. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

WASHINGTON (AP) — An estimated 2.1 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week despite the gradual reopening of businesses around the country, bringing the running total since the coronavirus shutdowns took hold in mid-March to about 41 million, the government said Thursday.

The figures underscored the continuing damage to businesses and livelihoods from the outbreak that has now killed at least 100,000 people in the U.S., more than the number of Americans lost in the Vietnam and Korean wars combined, and more than 33 times the death toll on 9/11.

The U.S. unemployment rate was 14.7% in April, the highest since the Great Depression, and many economists expect it will near 20% in May.

First-time applications for unemployment, though still extraordinarily high, have fallen for eight straight weeks, and states are gradually letting stores, restaurants, salons, gyms and other businesses reopen. But other employers are still laying off workers in the face of a deep recession.

The Labor Department included a positive sign: The number of people now receiving benefits fell for the first time since the outbreak intensified in mid-March, from 25 million to 21 million. That suggests companies are starting to rehire and could mean that total job losses will peak in May.

Las Vegas casinos and Walt Disney World have made plans to reopen, and crowds of unmasked Americans are expected to swarm beaches over the summer months. Public health officials predict a resurgence by fall.

Despite the risks, the pressure for easing restrictions has risen across the globe as the economic pain has worsened.

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