WASHINGTON – The U.S. economy is stumbling as the viral outbreak intensifies, threatening to slow hiring and deepening the uncertainty for employees, consumers and companies across the country.
Coronavirus case counts are rising in 38 states, and the nation as a whole has been shattering single-day records for new confirmed cases. In six states representing one-third of the economy – Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan and Texas – governors are reversing their reopening plans. Reopening efforts are on pause in 15 other states.
The reversals are keeping layoffs elevated and threatening to weaken hiring. More than 1.3 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, down from 1.4 million the previous week but still roughly double the pre-pandemic weekly record.
Jobless claims “are stalled out at a new normal of over a million new claims every week,” said Daniel Zhao, an economist at Glassdoor. “The virus is in the driver's seat and we're along for the ride until the current public health crisis is resolved.”
Some economists have even warned that a so-called “double-dip” recession, in which the economy shrinks again after rebounding, could develop. Consumers, the primary driver of U.S. economic growth, are pulling back on spending in restaurants and bars, especially in the hardest-hit states. Some small businesses are closing, either under government orders or because of a lack of customers, according to private data.
Several companies have warned in recent days that more layoffs are coming. Levi's, the iconic jeans maker, said it will cut 700 corporate jobs. United Airlines has warned 36,000 of its employees – nearly half its workforce – that they could lose their jobs in October. (Airlines aren't allowed to cut jobs until then as a condition of accepting billions of dollars in government rescue aid.)
Motorcycle maker Harley Davidson said it will eliminate 700 corporate jobs.
The uncertainty fanned by the pandemic has led many CEOs to abandon their forecasts for second-quarter results. Just as with the economy, forecasters say it could take years for corporate earnings to return to the levels they were at before the pandemic.