- Last week, a staggering 3.28 million people applied for unemployment in the United States.
- The number beats the previous 1982 record and weekly claims during the 2008 Recession by millions.
- However, economists say the new wildly high unemployment numbers are more akin to what is seen in times of natural disaster rather than “typical recessions.”
- In an extremely rare televised interview, Federal Reserve Chair said the economy may already be in a recession, but he appeared optimistic that the country could possibly bounce back quickly once the virus is under control and businesses reopen.
Unemployment Claims All-Time High
More than 3.28 million people filed unemployment claims last week, according to the Labor Department.
The number is a stunning indication of just how rapidly and how extensively businesses like restaurants, hotels, gyms, movie theaters, etc. have shut down as the COVID-19 pandemic batters the United States.
By contrast, this new number shattered the previous record (695,000 claims in 1982) for the highest number of unemployment claims filed in a single week. It also greatly surpassed any week of the 2008 Recession, which capped at 665,000 during a single week.
However, comparing the coronavirus’ economic impacts to “typical” recessions isn’t quite accurate. This is because those recessions generally play out over a series of months or years.
For instance, while the 2008 Recession never saw weekly unemployment hit the millions, unemployment was higher than average for five years. In fact, if you added together all of the weeks of above-average unemployment, you’d get a total of about 26 million claims filed.
With the coronavirus, however, while the U.S. might see extremely high unemployment rates, many economists only expect it to last for a matter of weeks. Since the two circumstances are so wildly different, that can also make it difficult to use “typical” recessions to predict what will happen in the U.S. economy even a month or two from now.
Still, many economists predict that unemployment could climb as high as 40 million people by April, so while it may not be like “typical” recessions, this already is and will likely continue to affect millions of people.
On top of that, many trying to file for unemployment have recounted horror stories of websites crashing and being on hold for hours, many only to be told once they finally reach someone that they don’t qualify.
Treating the Coronavirus Like a Natural Disaster
Many economists are telling people to view the coronavirus pandemic less like the 2008 financial crisis and more like a natural disaster, which can cause the immediate shutdown of an entire economic region.
One big example is Louisiana and Hurricane Katrina. On average, about 4,000 unemployment claims are filed each week in Louisiana. When Katrina hit in 2005, there was a massive, yet momentary spike in unemployment claims.
That spike is similar to the nearly 73,000 people who filed unemployment claims in Louisiana last week. Of course, now, it’s not just Louisiana that’s experiencing a rapid surge in unemployment.
Just about every state in the country has seen a significant rise, with states like California, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas all boasting some of the largest numbers. It should be noted, however, that these are all highly populated states and the average unemployment rate for each state varies.
- Weekly Average: 52,200
- Claims Filed Last Week: 186,809
- Weekly Average: 8,000
- Claims Filed Last Week: 147,995
- Weekly Average: 15,000
- Claims Filed Last Week: 129,298
- New Jersey
- Weekly Average: 11,000
- Claims Filed Last Week: 155,454
- Weekly Average: 187,784
- Claims Filed Last Week: 13,000
- Weekly Average: 16,900
- Claims Filed Last Week: 155,657
By far, the biggest spike in unemployment claims was in Pennsylvania, where nearly 380,000 people filed for unemployment. That’s up from an average weekly filing of 21,000 claims.
Are We In A Recession?
Thursday morning, in an extremely rare televised interview, Jerome Powell, Chair of the Federal Reserve, spoke with Savannah Guthrie on The TODAY Show. Prompted by a question from Guthrie, Powell said the country “may well be in a recession.”
“But I would point to the difference between this and a normal recession,” he added. “There is nothing fundamentally wrong with our economy. Quite the contrary. The economy performed very well, right, through February. We’ve got a fifty year low in unemployment in the last couple of years, so we start in a very strong position.”
“This isn’t something that’s wrong with the economy. This is a situation where people are being asked to step back from economic activity, close their businesses, stay home from work, so in principle, if we get the virus spread under control fairly quickly, then economic activity can resume. ”
Powell went on to say that once the country is able to get this virus under control, it could see that rebound. Notably, Powell also stressed that it is still unknown how quickly that could happen.
One of the biggest ways the government is trying to hold up the economy is through a $2 trillion dollar stimulus package. Wednesday night, the Senate unanimously passed that 96-0. It now goes to the House, which is expected to vote on it tomorrow morning.
If it passes without any revisions, it would then head directly to President Trump, who’s said he would sign it immediately.
News of the bill’s passage through the Senate led to favorable reactions in the stock market. Between that news and the announcement that Senate Democrats and Republicans were working with the White House to make such a deal, both the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 posted their first back-to-back gains for the first time since February.
In February, the Dow was posting an all-time high of 29,000. By Monday, when Senate Democrats shot down a previous version of the stimulus package, the Dow Jones had sunk to 18,000 points. Notably, it hadn’t been that low since 2016.
By Thursday morning, the Dow was back up to 22,000 points.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal) (CNN)
Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”
- Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
- Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
- Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.
Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet
Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”
At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017.
Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony.
“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”
Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.
“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”
What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”
Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing.
“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”
“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”
Nation Impressed by Gorman
“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment.
“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”
Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration.
Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation.
Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day.
See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)
SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section
- The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June.
- The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
- Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary.
- It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.
College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay
College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.
Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”
The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary.
While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S.
Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.
With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.
The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test
In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.
In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.
According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.
For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)
Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban
- President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.
- Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
- The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions.
Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban
President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.
That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.
Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”
It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead.
Biden To Block Trump’s Order
Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.
“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.
“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.
With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect.
It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.
Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.