More than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the last week of March, the U.S. Labor Department reported on Thursday - an unheard of number never before recorded in the U.S. - as the onslaught of the coronavirus continues to bring the U.S. economy to its knees.
The U.S. Labor Department reported that jobless claims for the week ended March 28 tallied 6,648,000. That followed last week's eye-popping report of 3.3 million Americans being out of work and having filed for jobless claims - bringing the two-week total to 10 million.
Economists from the likes of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley had been predicting anywhere from 3 million to 5.5 million jobless claims through the second week of a near-nationwide shutdown in economic activity that extended to cover more than two-thirds of the country.
"The U.S. labor market has never experienced such disruption," said Mike Loewengart, managing director of investment strategy with E*TRADE Financial. Not surprisingly, some of the hardest hit pockets include gig and food services workers, but also today’s report shows that the impact of the virus is more far-reaching than many had expected."
States indicated people from a wide swath of sectors and industries—restaurants, retail, trade, construction and more — filed for unemployment benefits in the final week of March.
Until March, U.S. employers had added jobs for a record 113 straight months, causing payrolls to grow by 22 million, and pushing the jobless rate down to 3.5% in February, a near-record level not seen since the 1960s.
All 50 states reported increases in initial claims for the week ending March 21. The largest increases were in Pennsylvania (+362,012), Ohio (+189,263), Massachusetts (+141,003), Texas (+139,250), and California (+128,727), while the smallest increases were in the U.S. Virgin Islands (+79), South Dakota (+1,571), West Virginia (+2,671), Vermont (+3,125), and Wyoming (+3,136).
The increase in unemployment claims is set to drive up the unemployment rate, which was hovering near a 50-year low of 3.5% as recently as February, by several percentage points.
The Labor Department will release March's nonfarm payrolls figures on Friday. The numbers are expected to only reflect the start of the unprecedented explosion in unemployment wrought by the coronavirus's impact on the U.S. and global economies.