State jobless filings are growing geometrically, a signal of how the national numbers will change when we have them. Last Monday, Colorado had 400 people apply for unemployment insurance. This Tuesday: 6,800. California has seen its daily filings jump from 2,000 to 80,000. Oregon went from 800 to 18,000. In Connecticut, nearly 2 percent of the state’s workers declared that they were newly jobless on a single day. Many other states are reporting the same kinds of figures.
These numbers are subject to sharp changes; things like large plant closures lead them to jump and fall and jump and fall. But for them to rise so precipitously, across all states? To stay high? That is new. The economy is not tipping into a jobs crisis. It is exploding into one. Given the trajectory of state reports, it is certain that the country will set a record for new jobless claims next week, not only in raw numbers but also in the share of workers laid off. The total is expected to be in the range of 1.5 million to 2.5 million, and to climb from there.
None of that is surprising. The economy needs to halt to protect lives and sustain the medical system. Planes have been grounded, conferences canceled, millions of Americans told not to leave their homes except to get groceries and other necessities. Due to the emergency measures now in place, businesses have had no choice but to let workers go. The list of employers laying off workers en masse includes cruise lines, airlines, hotels, restaurants, bars, cabinetmakers, linen companies, newspapers, bookstores, caterers, and festivals. I started adding up numbers in news reports, and quit when I hit 100,000.
The economy had been plodding along in its late expansion, growing at a 2 or 3 percent annual pace. Now, private forecasters expect it will contract at something like a 15 percent pace, though nobody really knows. A viral quarantine is impossible to model, because modeling would mean knowing how long the necessary emergency measures will last and how well the government will respond with some degree of accuracy. Still, real-time measures show a consumer-economy apocalypse. One credit-card processor said that payments to businesses were down 30 percent in Seattle, 26 percent in Portland, and 12 percent in San Francisco. Nearly every state is seeing dramatic declines, with hotels and restaurants hit particularly hard.
The markets are not normal, either. The stock market lost 20 percent of its value in just 21 days—the fastest and sharpest bear market on record, faster than 1929, faster than 1987, 10 times faster than 2007. The financial system has required no less than seven emergency interventions by the Federal Reserve in the past week. The country’s central bank has wrenched interest rates to zero, started buying more than half a trillion dollars of financial assets, and opened up special facilities to inject liquidity into the financial system.
Yet in the real economy, everything has halted, frozen in place. This is not a recession. It is an ice age.