Nearly 17 Million Jobless Claims as Coronavirus Halts Economy

Nearly 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past three weeks as an unprecedented economic shutdown continues.

Nearly 17 million Americans now have filed for unemployment benefits in the past three weeks, with some 6.6 million registering for benefits in the past seven days alone as unprecedented measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak by shutting down the economy continued to take their toll on the jobs market.

The U.S. Labor Department reported that 6,606,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the week ended April 4, well past the 5 million in claims expected by analysts polled by FactSet. The three-week total now stands at more close to 17 million, the highest on record. Continuing jobless claims - a rolling number - came in at 7.45 million.

While shocking, the numbers are arguably not even a real reflection of the current state of the U.S. jobs market, where people across the country continue to struggle to submit claims and where companies continue to face roadblocks getting promised stimulus funding to keep their workers on the payroll.

“These dismal numbers suggest another record-breaking April jobs report,” Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S economist at S&P Global Ratings in New York, told Reuters before the report. “America is now in recession and as it appears to deepen, the question is how long it will it take before the U.S. recovers.”

With more than 95% of Americans now under “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders, reports continue to mount of state employment offices being overwhelmed by a deluge of applications. 

Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that “we have approximately 1,000 calls coming through in every two hour period of time,” noting that “currently, federal employees and people who have worked in multiple states cannot file online.”

Even with the processing difficulties, analysts and economists still expect to see staggering recorded job losses in April - by some estimates as high as 20 million. 

The government reported last Friday that the economy shed 701,000 jobs in March - the most since the Great Recession - though that figure only reflected the start of the pandemic before the U.S. economy came to a virtual standstill.