U.S. Unemployment Hits Highest Rate Since Great Depression

Out of order: Some 3.2 million U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total number of claims in the past seven weeks to nearly 33.5 million, Eric Morath and Gwynn Guilford report for The Wall Street Journal. It’s made for the dismal April jobs report released today, which showed unemployment hit 14.7 percent in April, a jobless rate not seen since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate for black workers is even higher, at 16.7 percent. Some analysts said these numbers are still an undercount of those who have lost their jobs in recent weeks. The unemployment rate for black workers is even higher, at 16.7 percent. The number of U.S. deaths from Covid-19 has surpassed 76,000.

  • Also: Workers in states that have begun to reopen businesses may have to choose between their paycheck and their health, Holly Bailey writes in The Washington Post, including 64-year-old Iowan Terrie Neider, who has a chronic illness that makes her more susceptible to respiratory diseases. “I’m so terrified of getting sick that I have shut myself away,” Neider told The Post. “I need to work. I can’t afford not to. But I am scared to death.” More than 1,000 workers at a single Tyson meatpacking plant in Waterloo, Iowa, have tested positive for Covid-19, the Des Moines Register reports. Meanwhile, Iowa has joined other states like Ohio in launching a website for employers to report employees who refuse to come back to work, so that they can’t receive unemployment benefits.

About to SNAP: Food insecurity in the United States is skyrocketing, with nearly one-fifth of mothers saying their children are not getting enough to eat, Jason DeParle writes in The New York Times, higher than even at the worst of the  Great Recession in 2008. Lines for pickup at some food banks stretch for miles. To bring some relief, Democrats want to increase benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, by 15 percent for the duration of the economic crisis, but Republicans are resisting, fearing that government assistance will become permanent.

  • Also: Billionaires generally have increased their wealth in 2020, and at least several have made enormous gains since the start of the pandemic, according to an analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, The Guardian reports.

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PPE whistleblower: As the coronavirus crisis snowballed, the federal government’s quest to ramp up supplies of personal protective equipment was hampered by a group of volunteers tasked with vetting leads before sending them to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, creating a bottleneck where who you were mattered as much, or more, than what resources you had to offer, according to investigations by The New York Times and The Washington Post. The group was led by President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and included in its ranks the Trump youth activist Charlie Kirk and a former “Apprentice” contestant who now serves as the campaign chair of Women for Trump, as well as employees from consulting and private equity firms with little or no experience in government procurement. Tips from Trump allies were prioritized and tracked in a spreadsheet called “V.I.P. Update,” while legitimate tips from unknowns were sidelined or ignored, leading one of the volunteers to file a whistleblower complaint with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. “The nature and scale of the response seemed grossly inadequate,” the anonymous whistleblower told The Times. “It was bureaucratic cycles of chaos.” Six administration officials and one outside adviser confirmed key elements of the complaint to The Post, while two senior administration officials disputed the concerns in the complaint.

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Do as I say: Vice President Mike Pence offered a tepid apology for not wearing a mask when he visited the Mayo Clinic last week, telling Fox News’ Bret Baier, “I didn’t think it was necessary, but I should have worn a mask at the Mayo Clinic.” But as Christina Zhao writes for Newsweek, he also defended himself, saying he knows he didn’t have the virus when he visited the facility—which generally requires visitors and workers to wear a mask—because he and the president are tested regularly. Just days later, the president himself toured a face mask factory in Arizona, but did not wear one himself, Jeff Mason reports for Reuters, even though there was a sign that read “Attention: Face Mask Required in this Area. Thank You!”

  • Also: One of Trump’s personal valets has tested positive for coronavirus, Kaitlan Collins and Peter Morris report for CNN. Trump and certain top-level White House officials will now be tested for the virus daily, according to The Hill’s Brett Samuels.

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Troubling trend: Three Russian healthcare workers have mysteriously fallen from hospital windows in the past two weeks, Isabelle Khurshudyan reports for The Washington Post, with two dying and the other gravely injured.  The victims had either tested positive or exhibited symptoms of Covid-19, or protested the way hospitals and healthcare workers were being managed—or both—before their mysterious falls. It sounds like pandemonium: Russian doctors complain that they do not have sufficient personal protective equipment to shield them from getting sick; a crowdsourced list of health-care professionals who have died from the virus has at least 108 names; and the bonuses that President Vladimir Putin promised have failed to materialize. As Vox outlines in their explainer on the topic, there are three primary theories to explain the falls: suicide, assassination, or accidents due to being tired and overworked. In Russia, more than 187,000 cases and over 1,700 Covid-19 deaths have been reported, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

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Acceptable tragedy: “The coronavirus scenario I can’t stop thinking about is the one where we simply get used to all the dying,” writes Charlie Warzel in a New York Times op-ed, pointing out the parallels between American inaction on gun violence and the response to the coronavirus pandemic. It was a tweet that started it off: “Someone poke holes in this scenario,” wrote Eric Nelson, the editorial director of Broadside Books. “We keep losing 1,000 to 2,000 a day to coronavirus. People get used to it. We get less vigilant as it very slowly spreads. By December we’re close to normal, but still losing 1,500 a day, and as we tick past 300,000 dead, most people aren’t concerned.” 1,723 Americans reportedly died from the virus the day Warzel read that. “And yet their collective passing was hardly mourned,” he writes. “After all, how to distinguish those souls from the 2,097 who perished the day before or the 1,558 who died the day after?”

Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.

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