The news that 3.8 million more people have applied for unemployment benefits over the last week marked "tough numbers to see," but there remains room for optimism, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said Thursday.
"As difficult as it is to see this many Americans unemployed, we came into this period of unemployment by a very different path than, say, the Great Recession, and we'll go out by a different path," Scalia said on CNBC's "Squawk Box."
The totals over the last six weeks, caused by the economic shutdowns from the coronavirus pandemic, come to about 30 million overall, Scalia said, but Congress moved quickly in March to address the issue through the CARES Act and enhancements.
"As of last Tuesday, all 50 states and the District of Columbia are now paying that attention to the additional supplement," said Scalia.
Part of the issue with getting payments out is that many states have old computer systems that can't handle the high volume of demands, said Scalia, but the Labor Department is helping them get payments out.
Scalia added that the Paycheck Protection Program is also helping small businesses with loans to help keep workers on the payroll.
"From the perspective of the Labor Department, the reason I like this program so much is that there's light at the end of the tunnel," said Scalia. "I have no doubt that it's helped keep some people out of unemployment."
Meanwhile, he does think it's right for people to go back to work, but the Labor Department is also interested in protecting people who are out of work as well as those who are on the job and could be exposed to coronavirus, including with the meat industry.
"We have tools, including enforcement tools, that we'll use if we need to protect workers and that message is an important one for people to hear," said Scalia.
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