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Layoffs mount in Massachusetts, but pace of new jobless claims offers ray of hope

Nearly a million people in Mass. have sought unemployment benefits since the pandemic began

About 33.5 million Americans have filed for jobless aid since mid-March.
About 33.5 million Americans have filed for jobless aid since mid-March.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

More than 960,000 people have filed for unemployment pay in Massachusetts since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, but the pace of new claims has slowed, offering some hope that job losses are easing up.

Another 68,600 new jobless claims were filed in the week ended May 2, the Baker administration said Thursday. The total included filings by gig workers, independent contractors, and others who became eligible for unemployment benefits for the first time under a new federal program.

Last week’s tally was down from 242,000 filings in the previous week and an average of 149,000 filings over the past six weeks.

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“In this environment, a slowing pace of job losses is a positive sign,” said Michael Goodman, an economist and executive director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “If the feds step up soon and the gradual reopening of a larger number of business as soon as later this month is able to occur, we should start to see some workers returning to work.”

Still, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the state’s economy, and Goodman said “we’re not quite there yet” as far as reaching the bottom of the job losses.

The output of goods and services in Massachusetts fell 6.1 percent in the first quarter, compared with a 4.8 decline nationally, according to MassBenchmarks, a collaboration between the UMass Donahue Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Over the past seven weeks, jobless claims have totaled nearly 26 percent of the state’s pre-coronavirus labor force, according to Greg Sullivan, research director of the Pioneer Institute in Boston.

“By this measure, it looks like Massachusetts has been hit harder than the nation as a whole,” Sullivan said.

Nationally, jobless claims have totaled about 20 percent of the labor pool, though only 23 states have started processing claims from people newly eligible for federally funded benefits.

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About 33.5 million Americans have filed for jobless aid since mid-March, including 3.2 million people last week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The weekly jobless claims data don’t capture everyone who has lost a paycheck, had their hours reduced, or couldn’t successfully navigate some states’ antiquated and overwhelmed unemployment systems. They also don’t break down filings by demographics.

A poll by The Washington Post and Ipsos released Wednesday found that 20 percent of Hispanic adults and 16 percent of Blacks report being laid off or furloughed since the coronavirus outbreak began. That compared with 11 percent of whites and 12 percent of workers of other races.

On Friday, the Labor Department will release its jobs report for April, and economists forecast it will show a US unemployment rate of about 16 percent, the highest since the Great Depression, and the loss of more jobs than were created since the Great Recession ended in 2009. Because the report will be based on household and employer surveys taken through mid-April, it won’t capture the full extent of the more recent layoffs.

Congress and the Federal Reserve have authorized a combined $6.4 trillion in spending, lending, and other support to help workers, businesses, and financial markets. But the money can do only so much to cushion the blow of the sudden shutdown of nearly 60 percent of the national economy.

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Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Larry Edelman can be reached at larry.edelman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeNewsEd. Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.