National Archives at College Park / Public domain

April 23, 2020; Washington Post

The Labor Department reports that another 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing total jobless figures to heights not seen since the Great Recession. An estimated 26.5 million have been laid off or furloughed in the past month, and 28.9 million people have filed since the first of this year. Compare that to the full year total in 2009 of 29.8 million, and maybe it will give you a sense of how unprecedented this downturn is both in its rapidity and depth.

This, say economists, brings the unemployment rate to somewhere between 15 and 20 percent, which is higher than anything experienced during the last recession and fast approaching the numbers experienced during the Depression.

Hopes for a sharp economic rebound are fading, overtaken by the public fear of going back to restaurants, movie theaters, schools and gym classes. The growing possibility of a “W”-shaped recovery—in which a resurgence of the virus, or a spike in defaults and bankruptcies, triggers another downturn—has analysts reframing what a reopened or rehabilitated economy might look like.

For nonprofits, of course, the unprecedented nature and parameters of this downturn portends tough going on every front.—Ruth McCambridge