Record 6.6 million file jobless claims as coronavirus grips economy

An unprecedented 6.6 million people filed unemployment claims in the last week of March, meaning 10 million people have now filed for jobless claims since the coronavirus pandemic ripped through the country, shattering the economy.

A total of 6,648,000 people filed initial unemployment claims for the week ending March 28, more than double the the roughly 3.3 million seasonally adjusted initial claims the previous week. Until that point, the highest level on record was 695,000 in October of 1982.

The shocking figures underscore the breadth of the pain to the economy caused by the coronavirus outbreak, which has shuttered thousands of businesses in the country as people practice social distancing guidelines.

Bars, restaurants, gyms, barbershops, massage parlors and other businesses deemed nonessential have been closed in many states. 

Macy’s and other department stores closed to customers have furloughed thousands of employees, while movie theater chains and major sports leagues and arenas are all closed with no real timetable for when large groups will be able to congregate again. 

To put the figures in some perspective, it took six months to add 10 million people to the unemployment rolls during the Great Recession following the financial crisis in 2008-2009. That has now happened in two weeks with coronavirus. 

“The job loss we have seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Heidi Shierholz, an expert at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute and former chief economist to Obama administration Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

“Based on new GDP forecasts, we project that nearly 20 million workers will be laid off or furloughed by July, with losses in every state,” she said.

Nations around the world are sharing the same experiences, raising questions about how difficult it will be to move out of a global recession.

President Trump last week signed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill that includes a significant increase in unemployment insurance. The legislation expands the pool of people able to receive the benefit and also added $600 a week to the existing benefit amount. Many states are still working to roll out the benefit.

The bill also included a new forgivable loan program for small businesses in the hopes it would help companies retain as many employees as possible, as well as a tax credit covering up to 50 percent of wages for larger affected businesses. It will also send checks to Americans making under $99,000 annually. The money is intended to serve as a kind of bridge to get people through the crisis. 

But as the number of coronavirus cases and deaths rises steadily, Congress is talking about a new jobs program to try to rebuild the economy, suggesting the relief approved so far will not be enough. 

An analysis from Goldman Sachs earlier this week projected that unemployment would rise to 15 percent this quarter, more than quadruple the 3.5 percent level where it was hovering before the crisis erupted, and well above the 10 percent peak it reached during the height of the Great Recession.

Economists also worry that the country may face additional lockdowns in the future and a prolonged recession if the administration is unable to coordinate widespread testing and monitoring to keep the virus in check.

Monthly jobs data updating the unemployment rate is scheduled for Friday, but is unlikely to capture the depth of the unemployment crisis. The data for March was largely collected in the first week of the month, before lockdowns and stay-at-home orders became widespread.

The number of coronavirus deaths in the United States has surpassed 5,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University database. More than 1,000 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours alone.

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