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Virus pushes US unemployment toward highest since Depression: AP Report

AP , Thursday 23 Apr 2020
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Unemployment in the US is swelling to levels last seen during the Great Depression of the 1930s, with 1 in 6 American workers thrown out of a job by the coronavirus.

More than 4.4 million laid-off Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, the government said Thursday. In all, roughly 26 million people _ the population of the 10 biggest US cities combined _ have now filed for jobless aid in five weeks, an epic collapse that has raised the stakes in the debate over how and when to ease the shutdowns of factories and other businesses.

In the hardest-hit corner of the US, evidence emerged that perhaps 2.7 million New York state residents have been infected by the virus _ 10 times the number confirmed by lab tests.

A small, preliminary statewide survey of around 3,000 people found that nearly 14% had antibodies suggesting they had been exposed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Just in New York City, with a population of 8.6 million, Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said as many as 1 million may have been exposed.

In Washington, many House lawmakers wore face masks and bandannas _ and some sat in the otherwise vacant visitors gallery to stay away from others _ as they debated a nearly $500 billion measure to help businesses and hospitals weather the crisis. The package was expected to win final approval later in the day, then advance to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Abroad, there was mixed news about the epidemic. Some countries, including Greece, Bangladesh and Malaysia, announced extensions of their lockdowns. Vietnam, New Zealand and Croatia were among those moving to end or ease such measures.

The coronavirus has killed nearly 190,000 people worldwide, including more than 100,000 in Europe and about 47,000 in the United States, according to a tally compiled by John Hopkins University from official government figures. The true numbers are almost certainly far higher.

In the US, the economic consequences of the shutdowns have sparked angry rallies in state capitals by protesters demanding that businesses reopen, and Trump has expressed impatience over the restrictions.

Some governors have begun easing up despite warnings from health authorities that it may be too soon to do so without sparking a second wave of infections. In Georgia, gyms, hair salons and bowling alleys can reopen Friday. Texas has reopened its state parks.

Few Americans count on Trump as a reliable source of information on the outbreak, according to a survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. About 23% said they have high levels of trust in what he tells the public, while 21% said they trust him a moderate amount.

On the economic front, few experts foresee a downturn as severe as the Depression, when unemployment remained above 14% from 1931 to 1940, peaking at 25%. But unemployment is considered likely to remain elevated well into next year and probably beyond, and will surely top the 10% peak of the 2008-09 recession.

Janet Simon, laid off as a waitress at an IHOP restaurant in Miami, said she has just $200 in her name and is getting panic attacks because of uncertainty over how she will care for her three children. Simon, 33, filed for unemployment a month ago, and her application is still listed as ``pending.''

``I'm doing everything to keep my family safe, my children safe, but everything else around me is falling apart,'' Simon said. ``But they see it, no matter how much I try to hide my despair.``

Corey Williams, 31, was laid off from his warehouse job in Michigan a month ago and saw his rent, insurance and other bills pile up while he anxiously awaited his unemployment benefits. That finally happened on Wednesday, and he quickly paid $1,700 in bills.

``It was getting pretty tight, pretty tight,'' he said. ``It was definitely stressful for the last few days.''

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