Americans applied for unemployment benefits in massive numbers for a third straight week, bringing the total to about 16.8 million during the coronavirus pandemic’s economic shutdown.
A total of 6.61 million people filed jobless claims in the week ended April 4, according to Labor Department figures released Thursday, as more states ordered residents to stay home and overwhelmed unemployment offices continue to work through applications. The figure compared with a median forecast of 5.5 million, and the prior week’s upwardly revised 6.87 million.
As wide swaths of the economy shut down, workers have been laid off across industries with unprecedented speed. Filings will likely stay elevated in the coming weeks, after more states issued stay-at-home orders and Americans get through to file claims on jammed websites and phone lines.
The three-week tally implies an unemployment rate of around 13 percent or 14 percent, surpassing the 10 percent peak reached in the wake of the last recession. The rate was 4.4 percent in March data that mainly covered the early part of the month, up from a half-century low of 3.5 percent in February.
California reported the most initial claims last week, at an unadjusted 925,000. Nationally, initial claims averaged about 216,000 a week in the 12 months through February, and the weekly record before the pandemic was 695,000 in 1982.
Continuing claims - which are reported with a one-week lag and represent Americans currently receiving unemployment benefits - jumped by 4.4 million to 7.46 million in the week ended March 28. That pushed the insured unemployment rate up to 5.1 percent - the highest since 1982 - from 2.1 percent.
Before seasonal adjustment, last week’s initial claims totaled 6.2 million, compared with 6.02 million the prior week.
The Bloomberg dollar index dropped while Treasury yields and US stock futures pared their declines after the simultaneous announcement of new Fed facilities and jobless claims data.
Georgia had the second-highest number of unadjusted claims last week, at about 388,000.
Michigan was next at about 385,000, followed by New York with 345,000 and Texas with 314,000.
Florida had 170,000 new claims. Widely reported problems with filing in Florida and Texas - two of the most populous states - suggest the numbers will continue to be large as residents eventually become able to apply for benefits.