National numbers reach 3.3 million as House considers $2 trillion relief package
Job losses in Wisconsin continued to soar Tuesday and Wednesday, with almost 40,000 more workers applying for unemployment benefits over the two days, bringing the total number of applications since March 15 to nearly 140,000.
The numbers, released Thursday by the state Department of Workforce Development, came as the U.S. Labor Department announced that 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment in the last week, more than quadrupling the previous weekly record of 695,000 set in 1982.
The House of Representatives is poised to take up a more than $2 trillion coronavirus relief package on Friday after the Senate unanimously passed it Wednesday night. It would give most American adults a $1,200 check and expand unemployment benefits, providing an extra $600 weekly on top of what states give. In Wisconsin, the maximum unemployment payout is $370 weekly, equivalent to making $9.25 an hour pre-tax.
President Donald Trump has signaled he would quickly sign it, an indication that federal officials are accepting the urgency with which the crisis must be dealt. Unemployment claims show no signs of slowing as coronavirus continues to ravage the country. Wisconsin had 707 confirmed cases and eight deaths as of Thursday, according to the state Department of Health Services. More than 11,000 people have been tested.
Meanwhile, the United States surpassed China in total cases Thursday afternoon as infections skyrocket, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. now has more than 82,000 confirmed cases, while China sits at just under 82,000, according to the university.
Effects on employment have been significant at a local level. Racine County is expecting particularly heavy job losses, said Mark Schaaf, the county’s communications director. The county, which has historically struggled with unemployment, has a heavy reliance on factory jobs and the service industry, sectors most affected by the state’s stay-at-home order.
“It’s pretty safe to say that whenever the next unemployment numbers come out, they’re not going to be good,” Schaaf said. While the state handles unemployment claims, Schaaf said about 100 residents called the county asking for help and guidance within the last week. The requests were so frequent the county revised its phone tree to make the process quicker.
Racine County’s unemployment has outpaced the state’s unemployment rate for virtually every reporting period in the past 30 years. The county’s rate peaked at 12 percent in 2010 in the fallout of the Great Recession, and it would not come as a surprise if the rate reached that or surpassed it during the coronavirus pandemic.
“There is certainly a possibility that we will approach those numbers or go over them,” Schaaf said. “It’s a little hard to compare, obviously, because that was a different kind of economic recession.”
A Federal Reserve official predicted this week that national unemployment could reach as high as 30 percent in the coming months, triple the rate following the late-2000s recession and even exceeding the Great Depression’s peak of 25 percent.
In an emailed statement, Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin said the bipartisan relief package “is another strong step forward by Congress responding to the challenges we face in Wisconsin” but added “we need to continue working together across party lines to take additional steps.”
Baldwin’s office said in a statement that two Baldwin proposals did not make it in to the bill: increasing the direct payment to $2,000 and making multiple payments throughout the crisis.