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More than 3.8 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday, as the tidal wave of job losses triggered by the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow.
The new report, which covers the week ending April 25, pushes the six-week total of job losses since states adopted strict stay-at-home measures to 30.2 million. Unemployment at this scale hasn’t been recorded since the Great Depression, when the jobless rate peaked at 25 percent.
With a total workforce of about 162 individuals, this brings the unemployment rate around 18.5 percent.
Economists surveyed by Refinitiv had forecast 3.5 million.
The four-week moving average was 13.29 million, an increase of 3.7 million from the previous week. Last week’s total was revised up by 15,000 to 4.44 million.
The latest evidence of the virus outbreak's impact on the labor market follows the Commerce Department's report on Wednesday that revealed the U.S. economy shrank by 4.8 percent in the first three months of the year. It was the first drop recorded since 2014, and the worst since the first quarter of 2009, when the economy contracted by 4.4 percent in the midst of the financial crisis.
Economists expect growth in the second quarter to hit a historical low, with some estimates as low as a 34 percent decline.
Several states, including Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, have started to navigate reopening their economies, though it may do little to staunch the bloodbath in the labor market, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor.
"We may be past the peak of initial claims, but we aren’t out of the woods yet," Zhao said.
The most recent claims data also comes ahead of next week's jobs report for April. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the unemployment rate, which rose from a half-century low to 4.4 percent in March, is in the "double digits."
"These are challenging times for all Americans and today’s unemployment claims reflect that," said Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson. "The Trump Administration has worked with all 50 states to ensure they are now delivering the additional weekly unemployment benefit guaranteed when the President signed the CARES Act. There is no greater workforce in the world than the American people, and President Trump’s policies will ensure they are back to work safely soon with a growing economy once more.”
Congress has passed four massive economic-relief packages designed to blunt the pain from the crisis, including the $2.2 trillion CARES Act signed at the end of March.