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The latest round of unemployment claims puts real jobless rate near Great Depression peak

April 30, 2020, 12:43 PM UTC

At the height of the Great Depression the unemployment rate topped 25.6%—a figure the real unemployment rate is nearing again.

Another 3.8 million Americans filed initial unemployment claims in the week ending April 25, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s down from the 4.4 million claims the week prior, but brings the total claims since mid-March to 30.3 million.

Before this six-week stretch of 30.3 million initial jobless claims, there were already 7.1 million unemployed Americans as of March 13. When those figures are combined, it equals more than 37 million unemployed, or a real unemployment rate of 23%.

But some think that staggering number doesn’t capture the full picture. “There are some people who are unemployed who are maybe not showing up in initial claims because they haven’t been processed yet because of state backlogs,” says Dan White, head of fiscal policy research at Moody’s Analytics.

The unemployment rate for March is 4.4%, but that calculation is through just March 13—before the effects of the coronavirus pandemic were fully felt. The April rate that comes out on May 9 is expected to top double digits.

But there’s another reason the official rate might be undercounting the situation. Out-of-work Americans are categorized as unemployed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) only if they’re also looking for a new position. Even though many states have waived requirements that workers be job hunting in order to collect unemployment, the BLS includes only those actively seeking work in the jobless counts. Many businesses remain shuttered, and presumably lots of laid-off workers are waiting for stay-at-home orders to lift before searching for work.

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