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US jobless claims soar past 30.3M; Europe reeling also

A man walks past a closed business, Wednesday, April 29, 2020, in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. The U.S. economy shrank at a 4.8% annual rate last quarter as the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the country and began triggering a recession that will end the longest expansion on record. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

NEW YORK (AP) — Bleak new figures Thursday underscored the worldwide economic pain inflicted by the coronavirus: The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits has climbed past a staggering 30 million, while Europe’s economies have gone into an epic slide.

The statistics are likely to stoke the debate over whether to ease the lockdowns that have closed factories and other businesses. While many states and countries have pressed ahead, health officials have warned of the danger of a second wave of infection, and some employers and employees have expressed fear of going back to work when large numbers of people are still dying.

In the U.S., the government reported
that 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for jobless benefits last
week, raising the total to 30.3 million in the six weeks since the
outbreak took hold. The layoffs amount to 1 in 6 American workers and
encompass more people than the entire population of Texas.

economists say that when the U.S. unemployment rate for April comes out
next week, it could be as high as 20% — a figure not seen since the
Depression of the 1930s, when joblessness peaked at 25%.

number of Americans thrown out of work could be much higher than the
unemployment claims show, because some people have not applied and
others couldn’t get through to their states’ overwhelmed systems. A poll
by two economists found that the U.S. may have lost 34 million jobs.

There was grim new data across Europe, too, where more than 130,000 people with the virus have died. The economy in the 19 countries using the euro shrank 3.8% in the first quarter of the year, the biggest contraction since the eurozone countries began keeping joint statistics 25 years ago.

“This is the saddest day for the global economy we have ever seen” in the 50 years that economists at High Frequency Economics have been following the data, they wrote in a report.

Even then, the
statistics do not capture the enormity of the economic crisis. The
quarterly figures cover January through March, and many of the lockdowns
in Europe and the U.S. were not imposed until March — the second half
of March, in a multitude of places in the United States.

The virus
has killed over 230,000 people worldwide, including more than 61,000 in
the U.S., according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Confirmed
infections globally topped 3.2 million, with 1 million of them in the
U.S., but the true numbers are believed to be much higher because of
limited testing, differences in counting the dead and concealment by
some governments.

In other developments:

— Dr. Anthony
Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-diseases expert, said he
expects federal approval for the first drug to prove effective against
the coronavirus to happen “really quickly.” Remdesivir, made by
California’s Gilead Sciences, hastened the recovery of COVID-19 patients
in a major government study, and it might also have reduced deaths,
according to Fauci.

— A 1,000-bed Navy hospital ship that arrived
in New York City to great fanfare a month ago left town after treating
just 182 patients. The surge of cases there has fallen well short of the
doomsday predictions. The 24-hour number of deaths statewide was down
to 306, the lowest in a month.

— With signs that the outbreak has
stabilized in places, President Donald Trump said he would not extend
the White House’s social-distancing guidelines past their expiration
Thursday. Those guidelines encouraged people to work from home and avoid
restaurants, groups and nonessential travel.

— Prime Minister
Boris Johnson said Britain is “past the peak” and “on a downward slope”
in its coronavirus outbreak. At his first news conference in more than a
month following a bout with COVID-19, Johnson said he will present a
timetable next week for easing the country’s lockdown.

— Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, 54, said he has tested positive for the virus and will go into isolation.

the Continent, France’s economy shrank an eye-popping 5.8%, the biggest
quarterly drop since 1949. In Spain, the contraction was 5.2%. Germany
is projecting that its economy, the eurozone’s biggest, will shrink 6.3%
this year.

Joblessness in Europe has reached 7.4%, the statistics agency Eurostat reported. However, big job-protection programs run by governments are temporarily keeping millions of Europeans on payrolls, sparing them the record-setting flood of layoffs that is battering the U.S.

This week, the U.S. estimated that its economy shrank at a
4.8% annual rate in the first three months of the year, the sharpest
quarterly drop since the 2008 financial crisis. The current quarter is
expected to be much worse, with a staggering 40% drop projected.

analysts saw a glimmer of hope in the way new unemployment claims have
fallen for four straight weeks. Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the
Century Foundation, said the wave of layoffs at vulnerable businesses
such as restaurants, hotels and stores may have largely run its course.

for now, the economic contagion seems to have plateaued,” Stettner
said. “But we’re still at a level that is a mortal threat to the
nation’s financial well-being.”

Across the U.S., many governors
have taken steps to gradually reopen their economies, amid impatience
among Americans who complain their livelihoods are being destroyed and
their rights trampled.

In Michigan, hundreds of protesters
returned to the Capitol to denounce Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home
order and business restrictions. Whitmer, a Democrat, wants Republican
lawmakers to extend her emergency declaration 28 days.

But even in states where businesses are being allowed to reopen, some workers are uneasy about returning.

Ward, an Omaha hairstylist, said she is worried that the Nebraska
governor’s decision to let salons reopen on May 4 could put her and her
family at risk. She would prefer to collect unemployment until the
danger subsides.

“I feel like we are literally the guinea pigs in this situation,” she said.

Price, furloughed in March from his job at Del Frisco’s Grille in a
Nashville suburb, has been asked to come back but is wary, especially
since he is susceptible to respiratory infections.

“Even with
every precaution taken, I’m highly at risk,” he said. “The fact that my
job is just, ‘Come on up, make some money,’ it’s insane. It’s absolutely
insane to ask that of people.”

Finding enough workers willing to
return is proving to be a challenge for Jennifer Holliday, manager at a
restaurant in Oklahoma City that will reopen its dining room Friday.
Many of her employees are not returning calls or messages.

“There are some who want to just ride it out and take the unemployment,” she said.

Rugaber reported from Washington, Leicester from Paris. AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.