Unemployment Hits Record High as 4.4 Million Workers File Jobless Claims

April 23, 2020 Updated: April 23, 2020

More than 4.4 million workers in the United States filed unemployment claims during the week ending April 18, while the seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate surged to a record high of 11.0 percent, Labor Department figures show.

The data released on April 23 (pdf) shows that the number of people filing initial jobless claims for the week ending April 18 was 4,427,000, while the insured unemployment rate for the week ending April 11 grew by 2.8 percent from the previous week’s rate.

“This marks the highest level of the seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate in the history of the seasonally adjusted series,” the Labor Department stated, also noting that “the COVID-19 virus continues to impact the number of initial claims and insured unemployment.”

The previous insured unemployment rate was 8.2 percent for the week ending April 4, which, when announced last week, broke the previous record of 7.0 percent set in May 1975.

While the newly announced 4.43 million jobless claims number is lower than the record-setting 6.9 million claims filed during the week ending March 29, it brings the total unemployment claims filed in the last five weeks to an astounding 26 million, wiping out all jobs created since the 2008 financial crisis and then some.

The longest-ever employment boom in U.S. history started in September 2010 and added some 22 million jobs. It was cut short in February by a shutdown of much of the economy alongside strict social-distancing measures put in place after the outbreak of the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.

“The U.S. economy is hemorrhaging jobs at a pace and scale never before recorded,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco. “It compares to a natural disaster on a national scale.”

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A person sweeps outside the New York State Department of Labor offices, which closed to the public due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Brooklyn on March 20, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The new jobless claims report comes on the heels of dismal data last week showing a record drop in retail sales in March and the biggest decline in factory output since 1946.

Roughly 95 percent of the U.S. population is now under stay-at-home orders, and many factories, restaurants, stores, and other businesses are closed or have seen sales shrivel.

As a once-vibrant economy has been brought to a standstill by measures to curb the spread of the virus, surging unemployment, and other dismal economic data have fueled tensions. In at least 10 states so far, rallies have been held to protest lockdowns that have upended nearly every aspect of the day-to-day lives of Americans.

“My anxiety is through the roof right now, not knowing what’s going to happen,” said Laura Wieder, who was laid off from her job managing a now-closed sports bar in Bellefontaine, Ohio.

The mounting economic fallout almost certainly signals the onset of a global recession, with job losses that are likely to dwarf those of the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

Speaking at a virtual question-and-answer session on April 15, International Monetary Fund head Kristalina Georgieva said that the outbreak “is a crisis like no other” and that it has sparked the worst global recession since the Great Depression.

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A doctor speaks with a homeless man in San Francisco on March 17, 2020. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Still, in her remarks, the IMF head struck a hopeful note, insisting the crisis will eventually pass and urging governments to adjust policies to give economies the best chance for a quick bounce-back.

Among moves to help distressed workers, the $2.2 trillion emergency relief bill signed into law by President Donald Trump on March 27 gives states more flexibility to extend unemployment compensation.

Still, many economists believe there will be further downside for the labor market.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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