The coronavirus pandemic is quickly forcing businesses to close across Massachusetts and the nation, sending a shocking number of workers into the unemployment line as they face an uncertain future.
This week's first-time unemployment claims totaled 6.6 million in the United States, doubling last week's historic high of 3.3 million. In Massachusetts, the number of claims rose sharply as well, jumping to 181,062, an increase of 32,610 from the previous week.
Most people have been ordered to stay at home so they don't help spread coronavirus, which has killed nearly 6,000 in the U.S. as of Thursday night. That's caused many businesses to shutter, at least temporarily, and the unemployment figures paint a startling picture of the toll that the deadly pathogen has taken on the state and national economies.
"It's obviously heightened, that sense of worry," said Steven Landspurg, who worked as a physical therapist aide in Natick until the pandemic hit and recently filed for unemployment. "I have to pay rent. I'm worried about not having a roof over my head."
He's now living with family until he decides what to do next.
Even business owners are not immune to unemployment. Asia Mei owns the restaurant Moonshine 152 in South Boston. She laid off her roughly two dozen employees, including herself.
"Having to call and lay them off just was devastating," she said. "My life revolves around that restaurant. My dreams. Everything. My personal savings. Everything went into that space."
To deal with the jobless surge, the Baker administration has hired more than 500 new employees at the Department of Unemployment Assistance to manage the flood of new cases.
The record number of unemployment claims reported by the U.S. Department of Labor Thursday are staggering, experts said.
"To put that into perspective … before coronavirus was 695,000. This is about 10 times more," Babson College economic analyst Peter Cohan said.
The nearly 10 million new claims over the past two weeks represent a 3,000% surge since early March, making unemployment benefit claims during the 2008 recession look like a tiny blip. Unemployment could reach 15%, according to experts like Cohan.
"And when you have that many people unemployed you can be sure that they are going to be cutting back on their spending. So that is going to create more economic decline," he said.
Congressman Joe Kennedy pointed out that the latest numbers are actually a week behind: "So you're going to see a drastic increase again next week."
The Massachusetts Democrat said the generous unemployment benefit in the $2.2 trillion stimulus package will provide significant help, but added, "You're not going to solve the economic crisis as long as people are concerned that if they go out to dinner they might come back with a deadly virus. You have to solve the health care challenge."
More relief will be needed, Kennedy said. And while the $2 trillion stimulus is significant, Cohan said it pales in comparison to the 2008 recession, when the government bailout reached $23.6 trillion.
"So there is potentially a lot more money that could be poured into the economy by the government to fix this problem," he said.