The number of unemployed people collecting jobless benefits through a temporary federal-relief program has exploded in the past month to more than 14 million, suggesting the U.S. labor market is facing a fresh set of problems.

After a small decline in mid-May, applications for benefits filed through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program have soared 53% to 14.4 million as of June 20 from 9.37 million a month earlier. Federal continuing claims are reported with a two-week lag.


The portrait of the coronavirus-infected labor market looks worse if all continuing jobless claims are combined. Almost 33 million people were receiving benefits as of June 20, up from 31.5 million in the preceding week, according to Labor Department data.

By contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' normally more reliable monthly employment report indicated 17.8 million people were unemployed in June.

The gap between weekly continuing jobless claims and the monthly unemployment numbers has left a big -- and inexplicable puzzle -- for economists. Why aren't all these people telling the Labor Department they are unemployed?

The BLS has already said that people aren't answering the survey correctly (really, it lacks the appropriate categories to handle the current situation). A lot of people are functionally unemployed but hopeful of being rehired -- it's hard to infer from this that they are "employed", though we hope their employers' businesses do survive, and rehire them.

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