US jobless claims of 4.4m take pandemic toll to a record 26m

More than 4.4m Americans filed for first time unemployment benefits in the fifth week since nationwide lockdowns, as protests rise over economic hardship stemming from the stay at home orders put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The cumulative total of those making claims since mid-March surpassed 26m, more than erasing the number of jobs created by the US since the financial crisis. 

The initial jobless claims total of 4.4m in the week ended April 18, the labour department said on Thursday, was a decrease of 810,000 from the previous week. That compared with economists’ expectations for 4.5m.

According to preliminary state-level estimates that have not been seasonally adjusted, California reported the largest number of claims at 533,568. 

The mounting joblessness has spurred Americans in more than a dozen states to protest stay at home orders that have closed businesses and resulted in furloughs and job losses. 

Several southern states have begun to take steps to reopen their economies even as President Donald Trump has sent mixed messages, on the one hand warning Georgia’s governor not to reboot the economy, while on the other hand defending those protesting lockdown measures.

The president on Wednesday signed an order banning green card applications for 60 days that he said would protect American jobs from the pandemic.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on a $484bn stimulus package agreed to by the White House and Congressional leaders later on Thursday.

The bill includes more than $300bn to replenish the depleted small business rescue fund, known as the Paycheck Protection Program. Of the new funds to replenish PPP, $60bn will be earmarked for small lenders and community-based financial institutions.

The US has the highest number of coronavirus cases globally, at more than 820,000 while the death toll has surpassed 42,000. 

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