Another 5-Plus Million in U.S. Seek Jobless Benefits as Pandemic Halts Economy

Some 5.245 million Americans file for unemployment benefits last week as the U.S. economy continues to reel from the coronavirus outbreak and unprecedented shutdown.
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An additional 5.245 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week - officially wiping out all the job gains created since the financial crisis - as the U.S. economy continued to reel from the coronavirus outbreak and unprecedented economic shutdown.

Jobless claims were 5.245 million in the week ended April 11, a shocking number though actually less than the 5.803 million in claims expected by analysts polled by FactSet. 

The four-week total now stands at nearly 22 million, the highest on record. Continuing jobless claims - a rolling number - came in at 11.9 million claims.

The mind-numbing figures follow other economic data released this week that have started to show just how much damage the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic shutdown are having on the U.S. economy.

"With 22 million people now unemployed, the question at hand is how much higher can this number go," said Mike Loewengart, managing director, investment strategy with E*TRADE Financial. "If we are to find good news in today’s read, it’s that we’re finally dipping below highs from the past two weeks."

Retail sales fell 8.7% in March, the most ever reported in government data, while New York regional manufacturing activity hit an all-time low, declining to a shocking negative 78.2%, according to a separate report on Wednesday.

Industrial production slipped 5.4%, the largest decline since 1946, and manufacturing was down 6.3%, a record reflecting in part the 28% decline in auto production as plants shut down.

While jaw-dropping, the jobless claims numbers are arguably not even a real reflection of the current state of the U.S. employment market, where even a month into an almost nationwide lockdown people continue to struggle to submit claims, and where companies continue to face roadblocks getting promised stimulus funding to keep their workers on the payroll.

"It took nearly four years from the crash of October 1929 for unemployment to peak at 24.9%. The Covid-19 lockdown is on course to wreak as much havoc in two months," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist with Pantheon Macroeconomics. "The terrible March retail sales and industrial production data will be followed by awful April numbers."

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, which would translate into a jobless rate of somewhere near 15%.

The government reported 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.