US jobless claims hit 6.6 million as coronavirus layoffs continue

More than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week as the coronavirus continued to gut the US labor market, the feds said Thursday.

The seasonally adjusted number of initial jobless claims reported by the US Labor Department surpassed the prior week’s record-shattering revised total of 3.3 million — another signal that the pandemic will cause unemployment to skyrocket.

The figure blew past experts’ expectations for another surge in unemployment claims in the last full week of March as states imposed strict rules aimed at stemming the spread of the deadly coronavirus, leading many businesses to close and lay off workers. Economists surveyed by Reuters predicted 3.5 million claims, though banking giant Goldman Sachs expected 6 million.

The latest grim number came ahead of the federal government’s monthly jobs report on Friday. Experts say the closely watched report will understate the full impact of the crisis because it only covers the first part of March, before the worst of the virus-related job losses.

More than 80 percent of Americans are living under lockdown measures that have brought economic activity to a screeching halt in large swaths of the country, raising fears of a deep recession. The resulting surge in jobless claims has overwhelmed state unemployment offices, whose crashing websites and jammed phone lines have prevented some workers from applying for benefits at all.

Some experts say the recent claim numbers suggest the nation’s unemployment rate will more than quadruple thanks to the pandemic. The true rate likely exploded to 17 percent in March from a 50-year low of 3.5 percent that the feds reported for February, according to a projection by William M. Rodgers III, the Labor Department’s former chief economist.

“We anticipate the largest one-month spike in the unemployment rate in history, which underscores the critical importance of extending support to working families and those who have recently lost their jobs,” Rodgers and Andrew Stettner wrote in their report for the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

Congress and President Trump have tried to staunch the economic bleeding with a $2.2 trillion stimulus package that expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits and increased the amount of payments by $600 a week. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has expressed support for another stimulus bill, though it’s uncertain whether Republicans will join the push.

With Post wires

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