WASHINGTON (AFP) - US job losses from the coronavirus pandemic reached 22 million in the past month, according to new data on Thursday (April 16), as President Donald Trump is expected to unveil plans to reopen the world's largest economy.
Amid business shutdowns and restrictions ordered to stop the spread of Covid-19, government data continue to show the growing economic damage.
Another 5.2 million workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the Labour Department's weekly report, slightly less than the previous week but still a shocking figure.
A separate report from the Commerce Department detailed the damage to the housing market, with homebuilding slowed sharply in March, while a Federal Reserve report showed plunging manufacturing activity in the Philadelphia region, echoing similar reports elsewhere.
New York Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams warned it will probably take "a year or two," if not longer, for the US economy to recover its strength.
"Unfortunately, this is a situation where I think the economies can be underperforming for some time," he said in a video conference organised by the Economic Club of New York.
The jobless data underscored his prediction, even though the increase was smaller than the prior week, perhaps indicating the wave of layoffs had reached a high point.
Trump was expected later in the day to outline his steps to bring the US economy back online after saying on Wednesday that his "aggressive strategy" against the outbreak had worked, and that the country had passed the peak of new cases.
Yet nearly 2,600 people died from the virus in the US alone in the 24 hours to Wednesday evening, joining the nearly 140,000 killed worldwide by the disease that has infected more than two million, according to an AFP tally.
IT'S STILL BAD
Meanwhile, the Small Business Administration tasked with tasked with managing a US$349 billion programme to help businesses struggling due to the pandemic said it had exhausted its funds as lawmakers in Congress argued over a new round of stimulus measures.
The unemployment report covering the week ended April 11 showed initial jobless claims nearly 1.4 million lower than the prior week, but in the comparable week of last year, only 203,000 people filed for benefits.
"Claims likely have peaked," said Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics, "but this (is) nothing more than the end of the beginning."
Covid-19 was cited as the reason for rising unemployment in every state that listed a cause, with widespread layoffs in hotels, food service, retail, construction and even mining reported.
The claims may have reached a "vertiginous plateau," but the labor market is set for a "traumatic period," Gregory Daco of Oxford Economic said in an analysis, predicting the figures will remain high for weeks.
DAMAGE IN THE NORTH-EAST
The damage was apparent among homebuilders, with the Census Bureau survey showing new home construction started last month slumped by 22.3 per cent to 1.2 million compared to February's 1.6 million.
Permits for new construction - a sign of housing in the pipeline and a less erratic indicator - dropped 6.8 per cent.
Construction begun on single family homes fell 17.5 per cent to 856,000, but permits in this segment were especially hard-hit, falling 12 per cent from the prior month.
Oxford Economics predicted the indicator would fall further in the second quarter and recover "only modestly" in the second half of the year for an overall negative performance in 2020.
A report from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank elaborated further on the economic damage, showing manufacturing activity in the region falling below its nadir during the global financial crisis.
The survey of manufacturing activity encompassing parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey and the entirety of Delaware fell to -56.6, its lowest level since July 1980, while the index tracking new orders fell to -70.9, its lowest-ever reading.