New claims for unemployment insurance jump almost 20% in one week
San José, CA – On Thursday, December 10, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that new claims for regular state unemployment went up by 137,000, or 19.1% for the week ending December 5. This is the biggest increase in applications for unemployment since the first week of April. In addition, new claims for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA also increased by almost 140,000. The total of almost 280,000 applications by jobless Americans in a week was the second largest jump during the entire recession, raising the danger of a ‘double-dip’ recession, where the economy goes downhill a second time.
Behind this grim news was the relentless march of the COVID-19 pandemic, now almost out of control in 49 of 50 states. New records for infections are running over 200,000 a day and the total number hospitalized with COVID-19 are now more than 100,000. From coast to coast hospitals are running out of room and, worst of all, a new record number of deaths, more than 3000 in one day.
Here in San José, a hospital in a smaller city less than 40 miles south has no more room for new COVID patients. Next door to where a 90+ year-old relative of mine is staying in assisted living, the nursing unit next door has a major outbreak, with more than 150 residents and staff infected.
More and more states are being forced to close businesses in a desperate attempt to slow the pandemic to levels that our hospitals can withstand. Two states, Ohio and California, now have stay-at-home orders and more may follow. As people stay home and business restrictions grow, more and more jobs are being lost in this holiday season.
The day after Christmas, more than 13 million people will be losing their benefits as the federal PUA and the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or PEUC, for long-term unemployed, end. The federal moratorium on evictions and the federal expansion of paid Family and Medical Leave will also be ending, putting millions of renters at risk of homelessness and workers forced to choose between putting food on the table or trying to protect their families from the pandemic.
Hunger is stalking the country, with more than 50 million people skipping meals to make ends meet. People are trying to keep their lights on, their homes heated, and giving something to the landlord to keep them at bay and have nothing left over for foods. Shoplifting of necessities, from food staples to baby formula and diapers, has soared as more and more people steal on a regular basis.
The new BioNTech-Fosun-Pfizer vaccine is about to begin distribution; there is only enough for 50 million people in the initial batch and more will not be available until the summer. Other vaccines are on the way, but it will be months before enough people have been vaccinated to slow the pandemic. Given all the glitches in fighting the pandemic, from testing foul-ups to shortages of personal protective equipment, the smooth distribution of the vaccine is not a given.
While there is a stopgap aid bill in Congress, Republican diehards like Senate leader Mitch McConnell continue to try to cut down the amount of aid. With the growing possibility of partial shutdown of the federal government, it is no-business as usual in Washington D.C.
President Trump has been working overtime to steal the election – to no avail, but half the Republican members of Congress have drunk the Kool-aid and are signing up for his effort. He continues to insist that we have “turned the corner” with the pandemic even as our hospitals and staff are on the brink of going over a cliff. To top it all off, Trump is holding party after party in the White House even though more and more members of his administration are getting infected.