Americans displaced by the coronavirus crisis filed unemployment claims in record numbers, with the Labor Department reporting Thursday a surge to 3.28 million.
The number shatters the Great Recession peak of 665,000 in March 2009 and the all-time mark of 695,000 in October 1982. The previous week, which reflected the period before the worst of the coronavirus hit, was just 282,000.
Consensus estimates from economists surveyed by Dow Jones showed an expectation for 1.5 million new claims, though individual forecasts on Wall Street had been anticipating a much higher number. The surge comes amid a crippling slowdown brought on by the coronavirus crisis.
The 4-week moving average, which smooths out weekly distortions, was 1,731,000, an increase of 27,500 from the previous week’s revised average.
Stock market futures were off their lows of the morning but still pointing to a negative opening on Wall Street.
Businesses across the country have shut down amid a policy of social distancing aimed at keeping the virus’s growth in check. Individual states have reported websites crashing amid a rush to file.
Jobless claims are considered the quickest window into current economic conditions. Most data reports in recent weeks reflect periods before the worst of the coronavirus hit and have been showing the U.S. in relatively good shape heading into the crisis.
“This is a unique situation. People need to understand, this is not a typical downturn,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday morning on NBC’s “Today” show. “At a certain point, we will get the spread of the virus under control. At that time, confidence will return, businesses will open again, people will come back to work,” he added. “So you may well see a significant rise in unemployment, a significant decline in economic activity. But there can also be a good rebound on the other side of that.”
However, the near-term damage will be dramatic.
The advance number of actual initial claims under state programs, not seasonally adjusted, totaled 2,898,450 for the period. That’s an increase of 2,647,034, or 1,052.9%, from the previous week.
At a state level, the numbers were stunning.
Pennsylvania increased 20-fold, from 15,439 to 378,908. New York saw its number more than quintuple, rising from 14,272 from the previous week to 80,334, while California tripled to 186,809. Louisiana, where coronavirus infections have risen at a dangerous pace, went from 2,255 a week ago to 72,620.
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