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3.28 million file unemployment claims

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A record number of Americans filed for their first week of unemployment benefits last week, as businesses shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus.Initial jobless claims soared to a seasonally adjusted 3.28 million in the week ended March 21, according to the Department of Labor.That is the highest number of initial jobless claims in history, since the Department of Labor started tracking the data in 1967. The previous high was 695,000 claims filed in the week ending October 2, 1982.”Most historical comparisons of this scale are inadequate.The closest would be natural disasters like major hurricanes. However, as today’s report shows, the coronavirus outbreak is economically akin to a major hurricane occurring in every state around the country for weeks on end,” Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao wrote in emailed comments.

Several inter-related things are happening:

(1) Massive social distancing efforts in places like China [caveat: highly unreliable data], South Korea, and Italy have worked (As horrible as the situation is in Italy new case numbers are falling. We should see the same pattern in Spain over the next week or so). They can work in the USA too, but it’s a very tricky problem, because we’re a huge country with wildly varying population density levels, which means that we’ll see a series of hot spots spread over thousands of miles peaking at different times. (Another factor of course is that in many red states social distancing is associated with communism etc., and flouting even minimal precautions will be yet another insidious form of white identity politics)

(2) The new disaster relief bill — that it has to be called, absurdly, a “stimulus” underlines how the core moral value of the Republican party is that giving people money simply because they need it is Wrong — can provide a bit of amelioration, but in very short order tens of millions of people are going to be in even more dire financial straits than “normal.”

(3) How long any kind of serious social distancing can be maintained in this country is a very open question. Having a meth-addicted baboon in the Oval Office is somewhat suboptimal in this regard, as well as some others.

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