We’re finally beginning to quantify the effect coronavirus is having on the nation’s economy.
A report from NPR didn’t sugarcoat it. A record-shattering 3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending in March 21. The week before, that number was 282,000.
In fact, the Labor Department’s records go back to 1967, and we’re experiencing numbers we’ve never seen before. Daniel Zhao, an economist with Glassdoor, told NPR there was little historically we could use to contextualize this moment.
“The coronavirus outbreak is economically akin to a major hurricane occurring in every state around the country for weeks on end,” he said.
Minnesota’s share of that increase is on the high end of the spectrum. During that record-breaking week, 116,438 of our people officially declared themselves jobless. The week before, it had only been 4,010 people. That’s a 2,804 percent increase.
According to Forum News Service, more than 300,000 people in the state have applied for unemployment insurance since March 16.
Surprisingly, more than 10,000 of those people are, the Star Tribune reports, health care workers—among them dentists, nurses, doctors, and technical health staff. That’s largely due to an order by Gov. Tim Walz to put off procedures deemed minimally invasive or elective, like colonoscopies or minor surgeries.
But the hardest-hit group by far was bar and restaurant workers. CBS reported that 48,540 were laid off in the week before last. They’ve been out of a job for two weeks due to previous orders limiting service to take-out, drive-thru, or delivery throughout the state.
Things were actually looking pretty good in February. Our unemployment rate (3.1 percent) was down from the previous month—albeit by one tenth of a percent. Over the last year, we’d added jobs in government, construction, leisure, and hospitality, and wage growth was up 5.2 percent.
Now there’s no telling the extent of the damage, and chances are it will get worse before it gets better. Walz’s stay at home order officially went into effect on Friday at midnight. Nonessential businesses—as in companies that don’t provide, say, groceries, medicine, or toilet paper—that can’t go remote are shut down. Residents are being asked to stay home unless they're on a supply run, seeking medical care, or out for a walk.
This is supposed to last two weeks—long enough, hopefully, for Minnesota’s health care system to form a plan of attack. An estimated 28 percent of Minnesotans will be left jobless in the meantime.
But as we face this uncertain time ahead, we’re being asked to remember the alternative. Last week, Walz reported that researchers estimate some 74,000 Minnesotans could have died if we had done nothing to slow the spread. As of Sunday, the state’s death toll had risen to nine.