Coronavirus pushes 3.3 million to claim U.S. jobless benefits

WASHINGTON, USA – The economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic sparked an explosion of Americans filing for unemployment benefits, surging to 3.3 million last week – the highest number ever recorded, the Labor Department reported Thursday, March 26.

The normally routine report is at the front lines of the economic crisis caused by the outbreak, which has forced widespread closures of restaurants, shops, and hotels and brought airline travel to a virtual halt, prompting the stunning increase in people filing for benefits nationwide in the week ending March 21.

Nearly every state cited COVID-19 for the jump in initial jobless claims, with heavy impacts in food services, accommodation, entertainment and recreation, health care, and transportation, the report said.

The increase compares to 281,000 first time filers in the prior week and blows away the previous record of 695,000 set in October 1982. In the same week of 2019, only 215,000 new claims were registered.

Economists had been warning about a massive increase in the jobless level, but the consensus centered around 1.5 million, which several cautioned was overly optimistic.

Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics correctly predicted what he called a "horrific" result, noting that New York state alone had received 1.7 million calls about benefits.

The United States Senate approved overnight a $2.2-trillion economic rescue package that includes an unprecedented expansion in unemployment benefits to try to cushion the blow until the pandemic is under control. – Rappler.com