An estimated one in five U.S. workers have tried to apply for unemployment benefits in the last seven weeks as the coronavirus pandemic guts the labor force on a scale not seen the Great Depression.
Last week, another 3.2 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits. That’s the fewest since the week ending March 14, but 15 times more than in early March, Wall Street Journal reported.
That brings the total number of jobless claims to 33 million in less than two months, the Labor Department said on Thursday.
States have been overwhelmed as they try to process a massive flood of unemployment claims. Some applicants say their claims have been stuck in “pending” status for weeks as lockdowns, imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus, forced businesses to close and lay off or furlough workers.
The April jobs report, due out on Friday, is expected to show the highest U.S. unemployment rate since World War II, New York Post reported. Some experts expect it to hit 15 or 16 percent, up from 4.4 percent in March.
The previous peak unemployment rate was 10.8 percent in 1982. The largest monthly jobs loss, 1.96 million, occurred at the end of World War II.
A Labor Department graph shows the shock to the economy and the labor market since February, when joblessness was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent and the country had a record 113 straight months of job creation.
“April will be the worst single month of this episode, and probably the worst single-month on record for a long time,” said Constance Hunter, chief economist at KPMG. “The speed of this is so phenomenal. The economy fell off a cliff.”
The seasonally adjusted number of initial jobless claims has fallen for the fifth consecutive week, a sign that layoffs peaked at the end of March, when workers filed 6.8 million claims, NYP reported. However, last week’s figure outpaced economists’ expectations of 3 million filings.
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“This is the most dismal economic data I’ve ever seen in my lifetime,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank, told The Post. “It’s off the scale in terms of magnitude of what has ever happened before.”
The decline will be partially offset by firms that were hiring last month, such as online retailer Amazon; stores selling food and items considered “essential” such as Walmart; and services that do shopping and delivery, such as Instacart.
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