US weekly jobless claims report totals 6.6 million

Jobless rolls continued to swell due to the coronavirus shutdown, with 6.6 million Americans filing first-time unemployment claims last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

That brings the total claims over the past three weeks to more than 16 million. If you compare those claims to the 151 million people on payrolls in the last monthly employment report, that means the U.S. has lost 10% of the workforce in three weeks.

Moments after the jobless claims report was released, the Federal Reserve announced plans to inject another $2.3 billion into businesses and revenue-pinched governments. Stock futures jumped after the Fed’s announcement.

The most recent jobless number represents a decline of 261,000 from the previous week, which was revised up by 219,000 to nearly 6.9 million.

The ongoing surge in filings for unemployment insurance has been exacerbated by the expansion of those who can file claim. The $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus relief bill enacted last month has expanded the group to include the self-employed and independent contractors.

California, New York and Michigan saw the largest increase in claims last week. Those states are also among the hardest hit from the coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to the social distancing efforts used to combat the outbreak, the jobs market had been strong. In the six-month period prior to the economic shutdown, nonfarm payroll growth had averaged 221,000 a month. However, March saw a decline of 701,000 that only began to measure how deeply the virus had impacted the employment situation.

Most of that employment decline came in restaurants and drinking establishments, although health care and social assistance also took a hit. A more representative number of the actual impact to employment came through the Labor Department’s survey of households, which indicated a drop of nearly 3 million from the employment ranks.

A large contributor to that number was the 1.3 million people who dropped out of the labor force as they lost their jobs but were unable to look for work because of coronavirus-related restrictions. Those numbers helped push up the headline unemployment rate from 3.5% to 4.4% and drove a more encompassing number that includes those not looking for work and the underemployed from 7% to 8.7%, the biggest one-month gain in the history of that measure.

In its announcement Thursday, the Fed said the programs would total up to $2.3 trillion and include the Payroll Protection Program and other measures aimed at getting money to small businesses and bolstering municipal finances with a $500 billion lending program.

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