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What to know about America’s newly unemployed

Jay Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, has been so disturbed by the shattering of America’s once-healthy jobs market that he struggled to describe it as he testified before the Senate banking committee this week.

“Since the pandemic arrived in force just two months ago, more than 20m people have lost their jobs, reversing nearly 10 years of job gains,” Mr Powell said, adding: “This precipitous drop in economic activity has caused a level of pain that is hard to capture in words, as lives are upended amid great uncertainty about the future”.

The data on the economic toll of the coronavirus outbreak has indeed been devastating — and a grim reminder comes every Thursday morning in the US labour department’s weekly report on new applications for unemployment benefits.

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It has shown millions after millions of filings for federal help — and another 2.4m are expected on Thursday, according to economists’ forecasts. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate rose to 14.7 per cent in April, and is expected to increase even more once data for May are released.

Beyond the headline figures, much can be gleaned about America’s newly jobless as more data has trickled in: they are mostly low-income service […]

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