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The new report, which covers the week ending April 18, brings total job losses since the virus outbreak triggered widespread stay-at-home measures five weeks ago to more than 26 million, erasing the entirety of the 22.78 million labor market gains since the Great Recession more than a decade ago.
With a labor force that totals about 162 million people, the claims figures suggest the unemployment rate is about 16 percent, or roughly one in six Americans — significantly higher than the 10 percent peak seen during the 2008 financial crisis. The previous one-week high for jobless claims was 695,800 in 1982.
A growing number of economists have warned the so-called "Great Lockdown" will push the global economy into the worst recession since the Great Depression, when unemployment spiked to 25 percent.
Economists surveyed by Refinitiv expected the number of initial claims for state unemployment benefits to hit 4.2 million.
The four-week moving average was more than 9 million, up 3.5 million from a week ago. Last week’s total was revised down by 8,000 to 5.24 million.
The $2 trillion stimulus package signed at the end of March was designed to blunt the economic pain from the virus outbreak. As of Monday, more than 40 states were paying laid-off workers an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits, in addition to regular state payments, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said earlier this week.
"This is another terrible week for layoffs," said James McCann, senior economist at Aberdeen Standard Investments. "One of the concerns is that the government support doesn’t seem to be stemming the tide here."
States are burning through cash reserved for unemployment claims as millions of workers put out of work by the pandemic apply for jobless benefits at an unprecedented pace. Florida alone saw 505,137 filings, more than double the previous week's total, according to unadjusted figures.
But claims began to drop in some of the nation's biggest states: California saw a decrease of nearly 122,000, while New York's plunged by close to190,000 from the previous week.