Workers claiming new unemployment benefits soared last week to 3.3 million, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as the coronavirus forced employers to lay off staff.
The number of new claims is the largest in the country’s history, as nearly 70,000 have been infected by the virus in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Thursday’s total easily eclipsed the previous record high of weekly jobless claims from September 1982, when 695,000 people were laid off.
New claims for unemployment had jumped by 70,000 to 281,000 the week before, but otherwise claims had hovered near historically low levels for years, as low unemployment and robust hiring made it less likely for workers to be separated.
Thursday’s spike in unemployment claims will inevitably translate into a dramatic rise in the unemployment rate. The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute had projected that between 3 and 3.4 million would claim benefits and that such an increase “would raise the unemployment rate by more than half, by 2 percentage points from 3.5% to 5.5%.”
At 3.5% in February, unemployment was as low as it had been in half a century before the effects of the pandemic began rippling through the economy.
Congress is rushing to try to provide aid to workers kept home by the virus. The Senate on Wednesday night passed a historic $2 trillion relief bill that would dramatically increase unemployment benefits.
Jobless claims are expected to continue to rise as more industries in more places slow or stop business to prevent the spread of the virus.