Another 27,200 people filed new claims for unemployment in Missouri last week as a “reopened” state economy continued its struggle to return to normal.
The new figures were a slight improvement over the week before and a big improvement over weeks in early April when the number of new claims went above 100,000.
But 27,000 is still well above the numbers posted in weeks before the coronavirus hit, when weekly claims were usually well below 10,000.
New enrollment numbers also showed 253,148 people receiving benefits in the week ending May 16, roughly 10 times the number enrolled in mid-March and more than twice the highest number seen during the Great Recession.
And nearly four weeks after the state began reopening, it’s not clear when to expect the economy to return to normal.
David Mitchell, an economist at Missouri State University, said the speed of the recovery will likely depend on the virus, which remains at large despite efforts to ramp up testing and contain outbreaks.
If enough people feel safe to go back to work and then feel confident enough in their job to make big-ticket purchases, things will come back more quickly, he said.
If those things don’t happen, the economy will return more slowly.
“Are people worried about being unemployed two months from now? Maybe they won’t go out and buy a new car,” he said.
Businesses have to ask themselves similar questions as they weigh how much to spend and invest in such an uncertain environment, he said.
Mitchell said that if consumer sentiment turns around, the economy will likely follow, but the chief economist with the University of Michigan's national consumer sentiment survey wrote that May results indicated "that no economic restoration is as yet anticipated by consumers."
Those concerns are echoed across the country, where around 2.1 million people filed new claims last week.
While that number also represented an improvement over previous highs in March and April, the national economy remains in a deep funk, and experts are fretting about short-term job cuts becoming permanent.
"While many workers will likely be recalled once lockdowns are relaxed,'' Oxford Economics said in a note, "depressed income and spending, lingering virus fear, and mandated capacity restrictions will likely mean half of all temporary layoffs could become permanent.''
Mitchell had similar fears.
“It has the potential to be a long-term thing,” he said, “especially if they don’t come up with a vaccine.”
Researchers around the world are racing to create a one in record time, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN Wednesday they might have one ready for deployment by the end of the year.
But even if he’s right, scientists have their work cut for them with the public.
A new Associated Press poll of 1,056 adults conducted May 14-18 found less than half planned to get the vaccine, which would be a problem since more than 60 percent of the population will need to be immune to the virus to achieve “herd immunity” and substantially lower the risk of large outbreaks.