The U.S. Department of Labor is asking states to only report rising unemployment numbers in “generalities” in an effort to avoid rattling financial markets, according to the New York Times:

“In an email sent Wednesday, the Labor Department instructed state officials to only ‘provide information using generalities to describe claims levels (very high, large increase)’ until the department releases the total number of national claims next Thursday.

“The email, which was shared with The New York Times, noted that the reports were monitored closely by financial markets and should therefore remain embargoed. ‘States should not provide numeric values to the public,’ wrote Gay Gilbert, the administrator of the department’s Office of Employment Insurance.”

Unemployment numbers are expected to be astronomical as a result of the business slowdown cause by the COVID-19 pandemic which has led to massive layoffs, especially in the food and beverage and travel sectors which employ millions of U.S. workers.

Earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reportedly told senators that without an economic stimulus package, the U.S. unemployment rate could well reach 20 percent or higher. That possibility has both the White House and Congressional Republican worried that it could cost them when voters go to the polls in November.

The Times also notes some states that received the email from the Labor Department are seeking legal advice on whether or not they’re required to comply with the request to hide the number of unemployment claims:

“It prompted at least one governor’s office, which shared the message on the condition of anonymity, to seek an opinion from the state attorney general about whether the state had to temporarily withhold the information.”

There have already been hints of how bad the unemployment figures may be, with Robert O’Brien, deputy secretary of labor and industry for the state of Pennsylvania saying his state has been swamped with first-time unemployment claims: 180,000 in the last couple of days. That’s more than the state usually gets in an entire month, O’Brien added.

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