STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We're learning more today about the state of the job market. The Labor Department says 1.9 million people applied for state unemployment benefits last week. It is only in the context of the disastrous past few months that this would count as an improvement, but it does count as an improvement. NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley is with us. Hi, Scott.
INSKEEP: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: In what way is this better?
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: This is the first time in about 2 1/2 months that the initial claims for unemployment fell below the 2 million mark, although just barely. That does suggest the pace of layoffs is easing. That's good news. Unfortunately, though, there's nothing in this report that suggests a huge number of people are going back to work. The overall people - the overall pool of people collecting state unemployment benefits the previous week actually inched up a bit. When the recovery gets going in earnest we'll expect to see that number go down. We did get a report yesterday from the payroll processing company ADP which showed a much smaller job loss than was expected between April and May, which could be a sign that more people are getting rehired or it could be a statistical fluke. So we're all going to be watching closely tomorrow when the Labor Department puts out its official monthly jobs tally to see what that says.
INSKEEP: OK, so modest improvement at best. But really large numbers of people who lost their jobs remain unemployed for now. Are they getting help?
HORSLEY: We continue to hear from people who have not been getting unemployment benefits. And obviously, for some, that's a real hardship. Rent came due for a lot of families this week. But things do seem to be getting better on that front. The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, has been tracking this and says it's improved. In the first three weeks of May, the government paid out more than $70 billion in jobless benefits. I talked with a guy named Steven Pingle (ph) in Nashville. He finally started getting benefits a short time ago after trying for about seven weeks.
STEVEN PINGLE: It was a huge relief. It felt like in one day going from the poorest I'd ever been to the richest I've ever been (laughter).
HORSLEY: And that's been a lifeline for Pingle, who used to install Internet, cable and security cameras. He is worried, though, what's going to happen down the road. The federal portion of unemployment benefits - $600 a week - is set to run out at the end of next month. And Pingle does not expect to be back at work by then.
INSKEEP: Some people are going back to work, though. Who?
HORSLEY: You know, it varies by geography. Some parts of the country are reopening faster than others. Some have been harder hit by the pandemic than others. It also depends, though, on industry. Moody's Investors Service put out a report this week predicting a relatively rapid recovery in some industries like construction and manufacturing and health care. For example, a lot of doctors' and dentists' offices are starting to reopen, but other jobs could take a lot longer. Emily Guill (ph) used to work at a boutique hotel in Portland, Ore. When this all started, she thought she'd be out of work for a month or two. She's been disappointed, though.
EMILY GUILL: After a couple of months of quarantine and things not getting any better, I got a call from my manager saying that I was being moved over to layoff status and that they hoped that we would be able to be rehired next spring. I assume the tourism industry, hotels and airline travel are going to be one of the last things to come back.
HORSLEY: And that's what the professional forecasters are saying, too - anything that requires a lot of, you know, face-to-face contact or large groups of people. And so like a lot of workers, Guill is asking herself, is my industry ever going to come back? Or am I going to switch it up and do something different?
INSKEEP: Scott, thanks so much.
HORSLEY: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley on this morning we're learning that 1.9 million Americans - additional Americans - filed for unemployment last week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.