A nearly empty Times Square during the coronavirus pandemic in New York City, the US. Picture: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON
A nearly empty Times Square during the coronavirus pandemic in New York City, the US. Picture: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON

Washington — Americans applied for unemployment benefits in huge numbers for a third straight week, bringing the total to about 16.8-million during the coronavirus pandemic’s economic shutdown.

A total of 6.61-million filed jobless claims in the week ended April 4, according to US labour department figures released on Thursday, as more states ordered residents to stay home and overwhelmed unemployment offices continue to work through applications.

The figure compares with a median forecast of 5.5-million, and the prior week’s upwardly revised 6.87-million.

Key insights

  • As wide swathes of the economy shut down, workers have been laid off across industries with unprecedented speed. Filings will likely stay elevated in the coming weeks, after more states issued stay-at-home orders and Americans get through to file claims on jammed websites and phone lines.

  • The three-week tally implies an unemployment rate of about 13% or 14%, surpassing the 10% peak reached in the wake of the last recession. The rate was 4.4% in March data that mainly covered the early part of the month, up from a half-century low of 3.5% in February.

  • California reported the most initial claims last week, at an unadjusted 925,000. Nationally, initial claims averaged about 216,000 a week in the 12 months up to end-February: the weekly record before the pandemic was 695,000 in 1982.

  • Continuing claims — which are reported with a one-week lag and represent Americans currently receiving unemployment benefits — jumped by 4.4-million to 7.46-million in the week ended March 28. That pushed the insured unemployment rate up to 5.1% — the highest since 1982 — from 2.1%.

  • Before seasonal adjustment, last week’s initial claims totaled 6.2-million, compared with 6.02-million the prior week.

Market reaction

The Bloomberg dollar index dropped while US treasury yields and US stock futures pared their declines after the simultaneous announcement of new Fed facilities and jobless claims data.

Bloomberg