US job losses mount as Trump presses plan to reopen business

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People wear protective masks out of concern for the coronavirus while standing in line outside a pop-up food pantry, Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Chelsea, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BEIJING – The ranks of America's unemployed swelled toward Great Depression-era levels Thursday, and President Donald Trump reacted to the pressure on the economy by outlining a phased approach to reopening parts of the country where the coronavirus is being brought under control.

Trump told the nation's governors that restrictions could be eased to allow businesses to reopen over the next several weeks in places that have extensive testing and a marked decrease in COVID-19 cases.

“We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time,” Trump said, adding that his new guidelines give governors the freedom to act as they see fit.

His comments marked an abrupt change after a week in which he clashed with governors over his claim that he had “total” authority over how and when the country reopens.

Both Democratic and Republican governors welcomed the moderate White House approach, which calls for a gradual, three-phase reopening of businesses and schools.

In phase one, for example, theaters, sporting venues and churches would open “under strict physical distancing protocols,” but bars would remain closed.

Trump said reopening could be imminent in some places, and he has remarked that data suggests coronavirus cases have peaked in the U.S. Scientists have said it’s not clear that is the case, and they warned states to proceed with caution to prevent the virus from storming back.

The president unveiled his reopening plan the same day the government reported 5.2 million more Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the four-week total to 22 million — easily the worst stretch of U.S. job losses on record. The losses translate to about 1 in 7 American workers.