Business Briefs – March 27, 2020

3.3 Million Seek U.S. Jobless Aid, Nearly 5 Times Earlier High
WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — almost five times the previous record set in 1982 — amid a widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.
The surge in weekly applications was a stunning reflection of the damage the viral outbreak is inflicting on the economy. Filings for unemployment aid generally reflect the pace of layoffs.
Layoffs are sure to accelerate as the U.S. economy sinks into a recession. Revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, gyms and airlines. Auto sales are plum-meting, and car makers have closed factories. Most such employers face loan payments and other fixed costs, so they’re cutting jobs to save money.
As job losses mount, some economists say the nation’s unemployment rate could approach 13% by May. By comparison, the highest jobless rate during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, was 10%.
Congress’ Relief Bill Would Vastly Expand Unemployment Aid
NEW YORK (AP) — With record-high numbers of Americans seeking unemployment benefits after losing their jobs because of the coronavirus, Congress is set to significantly enhance the program.
The $2.2 trillion rescue package nearing final approval will, for four months, add $600 a week to standard unemployment benefits, which vary by state. It also provides funding for states to let people collect their payments immediately, eliminating a one-week waiting period. And it adds 13 weeks of coverage for people who have exhausted their existing jobless benefits.
Perhaps most significantly for a large swath of America’s workforce, the legislation for the first time makes gig workers, independent contractors, the self-employed, people with limited work history and part-time workers eligible for unemployment benefits.
Many Businesses Cautious About Restarting Economy Amid Virus
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — President Donald Trump wants the country open for business by mid-April, but some experts warn it’s not as easy as flipping a switch: Economies run on confidence, and that is likely to be in short supply for as long as coronavirus cases in the United States are still rising.
Mr. Trump this week said he wants businesses “opened up and just raring to go” by mid-April. That contradicts many public health experts, who warn that re-strictions should only be lifted gradually and once more data about infection rates is available. They expect efforts to curb the disease will continue for several months at least.
What’s In Store: Groceries Installing Barriers Amid Outbreak
QUINCY, Mass. (AP) — Grocery stores across the U.S. are installing protective plastic shields at checkouts to help keep cashiers and shoppers from infecting one another with the coronavirus.
At a Stop & Shop supermarket Thursday in Quincy, just south of Boston, shoppers paid for and bagged their groceries, separated from employees by newly in-stalled see-through barriers.
“I think it’s a great protection for customers … and the cashiers,” said Jasmine Vazquez, a home health aide shopping for a client. “We’re supposed to be six feet away, but we’re closer to them. So that protection helps, and I feel safer.”
The measures are “all about safety for our customers and our associates,” Stop & Shop spokeswoman Jennifer Brogan said.
World Leaders Vow to Coordinate Virus Response in Video Call
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The head of the United Nations told leaders of the world’s 20 major industrialized nations during an emergency virtual sum-mit Thursday that “we are at war with a virus — and not winning it” despite dramatic measures by countries to seal their borders, shutter businesses and enforce home isolation for well over a quarter of the world’s population.
The unusual video call in lieu of a physical gathering comes as governments around the world stress the importance of social distancing to curb the spread of the highly infectious virus, which has prompted closures, curfews and lockdowns globally.
Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Honda, Toyota Seek to Restart Factories
DETROIT (AP) — Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Honda and Toyota took steps Thursday to restart North American factories that have been closed to protect workers from the coronavirus.
The plants would reopen in early or mid-April, restoring the largest source of cash for automakers that generally book revenue when they ship vehicles to dealer-ships.
Auto companies, like other businesses, are trying to manage their way through the coronavirus crisis, which has forced factories to close amid employee con-cerns that they could catch the virus while working close to others at factory work stations.