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Fed Economist Suggests Country Could Hit 32 Percent Unemployment without Coronavirus Assistance

Roy Coleman Jr., a personal trainer in Seattle, says he has been unable to file for unemployment due to a high volume errors on the government’s website, Everett, Wash., March 27, 2020. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

An economist with the St. Louis Fed is projecting coronavirus could cost 47 million Americans their jobs, resulting in a 32.1 percent unemployment rate, eclipsing even St. Louis Fed President James Bullard’s dire 30 percent estimate.

“These are very large numbers by historical standards, but this is a rather unique shock that is unlike any other experienced by the U.S. economy in the last 100 years,” St. Louis Fed economist Miguel Faria-e-Castro explains in a blog post. Faria-e-Castro’s “back-of-the-envelope estimate” for unemployment in the second quarter of 2020 averages two different estimates of at-risk jobs due to social distancing to arrive at the 47 million prediction.

Faria-e-Castro caveats that his numbers don’t account for workers who may drop out of the labor force amid the pandemic — decreasing the reported unemployment rate. He also admittedly does not account for the effects of the recently-passed $2 trillion economic relief package, which includes direct cash payments and substantial unemployment benefits for most Americans.

Earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin warned Republicans that the country could suffer 20 percent unemployment if the package was not passed.

Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the country “may well be in a recession” after the Department of Labor reported an unprecedented 3.28 million surge in unemployment claims, more than quadruple the previous record for a single week.

“But I would point to the difference between this and a normal recession. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with our economy. Quite the contrary. We are starting from a very strong position,” Powell added.

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