'The whole city laid off': US jobless claims climb sky high

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In this Tuesday, March 24, 2020, photo, Keisha Henry poses for a portrait inside her lounge and catering business in New Orleans. Henry said she lost about $10,000 in revenue last week after three big functions she was slated to cater ended up canceling. Meanwhile, she still has expenses related to launching a bar and lounge six months ago. Henry said she regrettably had to lay off several employees.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

NEW ORLEANS – Barely a week ago, David McGraw was cooking daily for hundreds of fine diners at one of New Orleans’ illustrious restaurants.

Today, he’s cooking for himself, at home — laid off along with hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. in a massive economic upheaval spurred by efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

U.S. Department of Labor figures to be released Thursday are expected to shatter the old record for the greatest number of new unemployment claims filed in a single week. There are more suddenly jobless Americans than during the Great Recession — and more than in the aftermath of major natural disasters such as hurricanes, fires and floods.

But McGraw, and others like him, don’t need official numbers to understand the new realities of life in one of the nation’s hot spots for the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

“The whole city, laid off. Everybody,” said McGraw, using an exaggeration that didn’t seem like much of one. "Everybody who worked at a restaurant is laid off.”

Restaurants, hotels, airlines, automakers and entertainment venues all have been hit hard as cities, states and entire countries have ordered the closure of non-essential businesses and directed residents to remain at home.

The goal is to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. For most people, it causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Virus precautions have affected the worldwide economy. Companies in Europe are laying off workers at the fastest pace since the global financial crisis in 2009, according to surveys of business managers.