Nearly 85,000 people filed new jobless claims in North Carolina last week, according to a weekly report from the U.S. Department of Labor, indicating a slight improvement in the state’s job market, which has been badly battered since the coronavirus pandemic began in mid-March.

Last week’s revised report saw nearly 99,000 initial jobless claims in the state. 

According to the state Division of Employment Security, which has more up-to-date records, 1,049,755 North Carolinians filed for unemployment between March 15 and May 5; of those claims, more than 880,000 were related to COVID-19.

For perspective, as of March, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated North Carolina’s entire workforce to be 4.97 million people. That means that in less than two months, more than 21 percent of all of the state’s workers have filed for unemployment. 

The DES says the state has so far awarded benefits to fewer than half of those who have sought them: Just under 460,000 people have received a total of $1.39 billion, the bulk of which has come from federal pandemic payments made available through the CARES Act passed in late March.

North Carolina’s unemployment fund, which is among the least charitable in the country, has paid out less than $475 million in benefits despite the catastrophic crisis, according to the DES.  

Across the country, the DOL report showed, nearly 3.2 million Americans filed new jobless claims. Since the pandemic began, more than 33 million Americans have sought unemployment, numbers not seen since the Great Depression. 

Economists estimate that the unemployment rate could be as high as 20 percent. (The April unemployment rate, which will be released tomorrow morning, is calculated based on surveys taken in the first two weeks of the month, so it may not capture the full depth of the crisis.)

For now, the economy appears to be buoyed by hope among furloughed workers that they will get their jobs back soon, according to a Washington Post poll

More than three-quarters of furloughed workers expect to be rehired once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, including nearly six in 10 who say it is “very likely” they will get their jobs back. 

But economists say this is likely not the case. According to a new report from the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago, more than 40 percent of the recent layoffs will become permanent. 

As The Washington Post explains, many of the companies furloughing workers are shutting down or going bankrupt. And for those that do reopen, there won’t be the kind of demand there was before the pandemic, so businesses won’t require the same number of employees. 

“Even if a miracle cure falls out of the sky in July, it’s going to take demand a while to pick back up,” said Betsey Stevenson, an economics professor at the University of Michigan, told the Post. “There’s no way travel or retail look the same and brings everybody back.”.

About a quarter of those who have been laid off say they’ll be in “real financial trouble” if things don’t change within a month, according to the Post’s poll. 

These record-shattering jobless numbers, which augur poorly for an already-unpopular president seeking reelection this fall, are helping drive the Republican push to reopen the economy against the warnings of epidemiologists and public health officials. 

Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at 

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