Unemployment Claims Surge To Record 3.3 Million As Coronavirus Slams Labor Market

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An unprecedented number of Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week as the coronavirus shuttered businesses nationwide.

Roughly 3.3 million people filed a claim for jobless aid in the week ending March 21, a nearly fivefold increase over the previous weekly record in 1982. By way of comparison, in the worst single week after the crash of 2008, claims stood at 665,000.

“This represents the single worst one-day piece of labor market news in America’s history,” Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation, said in an email.  

The number of Americans seeking jobless aid “starkly illustrates the extent of the economic devastation that the coronavirus has unleashed,” Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics said in a note to investors. For perspective, the unemployment claims reported Thursday wipe out all the job gains for 2019 and half of 2018.

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And, as staggering as the figures are, they are likely to rise in the coming weeks, Ashworth noted. The deluge in claims has overwhelmed many state websites, preventing many recently laid-off workers from applying for financial assistance.

Ashworth added that he expects the nation’s unemployment rate, which was at a 50-year low of 3.5% in February, to top 10% as soon as next month.

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