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In the span of two months, the U.S. has lost more than 33 million jobs, wiping out all of the gains in the past decade as the coronavirus pandemic forces an unprecedented shutdown of the nation's economy.
But Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia predicted Thursday that jobs will return quickly once states begin to ease stay-at-home measures.
"We lost a lot of jobs all at once," he told FOX Business. "But we'll be gaining a lot of jobs all at once, too, as large companies reopen."
Earlier Thursday, the Labor Department said in a new report that nearly 3.17 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week. Although the number is still grim, it's the lowest amount of jobless claims since the week ended March 15.
The latest evidence of the virus outbreak's toll on the labor market precedes the Labor Department's April jobs report, which is expected to reveal the economy shed 21.8 million jobs and unemployment skyrocketed to 16 percent last month, a record. The figures date back to 1948.
Scalia said there could be "a lot" of job losses in the health care sector. According to a Wednesday report released by private payroll processing firm ADP, private companies shed a record-breaking 20.2 million jobs in April -- including nearly 1 million in the health-care sector.
"Different segments of the economy undoubtedly are going to be affected differently," Scalia said. "I'm going to look at health care. There's going to be a lot of job losses in health care. But we know those jobs are all coming back, and more."
Congress has passed four massive economic-relief packages totaling nearly $3 trillion to blunt the virus outbreak's toll on American workers and businesses.
Still, other economists have warned that the labor market may be slow to return to pre-crisis levels.
“We’re going to see economic data for the second quarter that’s worse than any data we’ve seen for the economy," Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said during a news conference last week. He said that rolling back some social distancing measures could boost economic growth, but added: "It’s unlikely that it would bring us quickly all the way back to pre-crisis levels.”