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Another Huge Blow to US Workers        06/05 06:18

   America's workers likely suffered another devastating blow in May, with 
millions more jobs lost to the viral pandemic and an unemployment rate near or 
even above 20% for the first time since the Great Depression.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- America's workers likely suffered another devastating 
blow in May, with millions more jobs lost to the viral pandemic and an 
unemployment rate near or even above 20% for the first time since the Great 
Depression.

   Economists have forecast that the government will report Friday that 
employers shed 8.5 million more jobs last month on top of 21.4 million lost in 
March and April. A figure that large would raise the total losses since the 
coronavirus intensified nearly three months ago to almost 30 million -- more 
than triple the number of jobs lost during the 2008-2009 Great Recession.

   The economy has sunk into what looks like a deep recession, and most 
economists foresee unemployment remaining above 10% -- its peak during the 
Great Recession -- through the November elections and into next year.

   A report Thursday on applications for unemployment benefits reinforced the 
picture of a bleak job market: The number of people seeking jobless aid last 
week was double the previous record high that prevailed before the viral 
outbreak occurred.

   Still, that report did offer a few glimmers of hope. As restaurants, movie 
theaters, gyms, hair salons and other retail establishments gradually reopen, 
job cuts are slowing and employers are recalling some of their laid-off 
workers. The total number of people receiving unemployment aid rose slightly, 
the government said, but stayed below a peak of 25 million reached two weeks 
earlier. And the number of laid-off workers applying for aid, while 
historically high, has declined for nine straight weeks.

   The economic shock, like the pandemic itself, has widened economic 
disparities that have disproportionately hurt minorities and lower-educated 
workers. More than 55% of African-Americans say they or someone in their 
household has lost income since mid-March, compared with 43% of whites, 
according to a weekly survey by the Census Bureau. For Hispanics, the figure is 
60%. The pandemic has especially eliminated jobs, at least temporarily, at 
restaurants, hotels, retail chains and other lower-wage industries.

   The street protests over George Floyd's killing that led to some vandalism 
and looting in dozens of cities won't affect Friday's jobs figures, which were 
compiled in the middle of May. But business closures related to the unrest 
could cause job losses that would be reflected in the June jobs report to be 
issued next month.

   A few businesses are reporting signs of progress even in hard-hit 
industries. American Airlines, for example, said this week that it would fly 
55% of its U.S. routes in July, up from just 20% in May.

   And the Cheesecake Factory said one-quarter of its nearly 300 restaurants 
have reopened, though with limited capacity. Sales at those restaurants are at 
nearly 75% of the levels reached a year ago, the company said. Both companies' 
share prices rose.

   Those limited gains may lead to more rehiring as companies slowly restart 
shuttered businesses. But economists say the pace of hiring will then likely 
lag as a severe recession and high unemployment hold back consumer spending, 
the main driver of the economy.

   Erica Groshen, a labor economist at Cornell University and a former 
commissioner of the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, said hiring 
could ramp up relatively quickly in coming months and reduce unemployment to 
low double-digits by year's end.

   "Then my inclination is that it will be a long, slow slog," she said.

   Overhanging the jobs picture is widespread uncertainty about how long the 
unemployed will remain out of work. Most of the layoffs in recent months were a 
direct result of the sudden shutdowns of businesses in response to the 
coronavirus pandemic.

   Though many of the unemployed have said they expect their layoffs to be 
temporary, many large businesses won't rehire everyone they laid off. And some 
small employers might not reopen at all if the recession drags on. Until most 
Americans are confident they can shop, travel, eat out and fully return to 
their other spending habits without fear of contracting the virus, the economy 
will likely remain sluggish.

   Even if just one-third of the U.S. job losses turn out to be permanent, that 
would leave roughly 10 million people out of work. That is still more than all 
the jobs lost in the Great Recession. A hole that size would take years to 
fill. Oxford Economics estimates that the economy will regain 17 million jobs 
by year's end, a huge increase by historical standards. But that would make up 
for barely more than half the losses.

   Gwyneth Duesbery, 22, returned this week to her job as a hostess at a 
steakhouse where she lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as the restaurant 
prepares to reopen. Duesbery said she is grateful for the opportunity, given 
that she hasn't received unemployment benefits since the restaurant closed in 
March and has run through her savings.

   She will spend this week helping to clean the restaurant and setting tables 
6 feet apart. The restaurant will be able to seat only about one-quarter of its 
usual capacity.

   The restaurant, Bowdie's Chop House, has reservations for about 20 people 
for its opening night Monday and said it has drawn plenty of interest from 
longtime customers. Still, Duesbery worries about her health.

   "I am concerned that it will expose me to potential diseases, and expose 
others, no matter the precautions that we take," she said. "It's kind of 
uncharted waters."

 
 
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