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Latest Unemployment Numbers Show Millions More Out Of Work


Another extraordinary number today - the Labor Department says 6.6 million people filed for unemployment last week. That means, in the past three weeks, 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits. NPR's Jim Zarroli is on the line from New York. He's been following this. Hi, Jim.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: What does the report say exactly?

ZARROLI: Well, yeah - 6,600,000 people filed for unemployment. California saw nearly a million people file. Georgia - 388,000 The Labor Department also says more people filed for unemployment than first thought in the week before that - 6.8 million. And, you know, these are numbers we've never seen before. You have to go back to the Great Depression to see this kind of just wholesale collapse in the job market, and even then, it didn't happen as quickly as this has.

In a very short period of time, we have seen all kinds of businesses shut their doors, often because they're told to by state and local governments. And, you know, the job market that was so strong six weeks ago now isn't.

KING: You know, we have been reporting on chaos at state unemployment offices over the past few weeks, which is understandable given the number of people who are filing. But I wonder, at this point, is there any sign that chaos is letting up?

ZARROLI: Yeah. I mean, in the beginning, a lot of people tried to file all at once. There are still stories about, you know, phone lines getting backed up and computers crashing. But the growing number of people file for unemployment I think suggests that the backup is easing just a little. I'm, anecdotally at least, hearing more people say they're able to get through. A lot of individual states are sort of learning how to handle the flood of applicants. I mean, they're doing it on the fly. You know, they're having to improvise, and it's slow, but they are doing it.

KING: Some positive news there. That's terrific. Jim, I want to ask you about the big economic rescue package that Congress passed a little more than two weeks ago. As we look at what that package is doing, do we see it helping people who've lost their jobs?

ZARROLI: Yeah, I think so. I mean, it certainly eases the anxiety a bit for people. It means, you know, people on unemployment can stay on unemployment longer, and they actually get more money in the first four months. It also means that people who do freelance and gig work can get benefits, which wasn't the case before. The problem, of course, is that they're still officially unemployed, and they're supposed to be looking for work, but that's hard to do when you can't leave the house.

KING: Yeah.

ZARROLI: And, you know, so many businesses are shut down. If you were a waitress and all the restaurants are closed, you know, looking for a job is kind of an exercise in futility right now. So, you know, the future for people like that is just very uncertain.

KING: Given all of that, what else is being done right now to help?

ZARROLI: Well, one thing is, this morning, we saw the Federal Reserve take another series of very extraordinary steps to prop up the economy. It's setting up another $2.3 trillion in loans for businesses and state and local governments. It's also moving more into some - you know, somewhat riskier kinds of corporate debt, for instance, to companies that have seen their credit ratings decline. So we have really, in the past few weeks, seen the Fed just pull out all the stops to keep the economy from crashing. It's really been extraordinary.

KING: NPR's Jim Zarroli. Jim, thanks.

ZARROLI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli
Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.
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