Americans applied for unemployment benefits in massive 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 people filed jobless claims in the week ended April 4, according to Labor Department figures released Thursday, as more states ordered residents to stay home and overwhelmed unemployment offices continue to work through applications. The figure compared with a median forecast of 5.5 million, and the prior week’s upwardly revised 6.87 million.

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Key Insights

  • As wide swaths 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 approaching 15 per cent, well above the 10 per cent peak reached in the wake of the last recession. The rate was 4.4 per cent in March data that mainly covered the early part of the month, up from a half-century low of 3.5 per cent 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 through February, and 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 per cent -- the highest since 1982 -- from 2.1 per cent.
  • Before seasonal adjustment, last week’s initial claims totaled 6.2 million, compared with 6.02 million the prior week.

Market Reaction

  • Treasury yields pared declines and U.S. stocks rose at the open after the simultaneous announcement of new Federal Reserve facilities and jobless claims data.

State Breakdown

  • Georgia had the second-highest number of unadjusted claims last week, at about 388,000.
  • Michigan was next at about 385,000, followed by New York with 345,000 and Texas with 314,000.
  • Florida had 170,000 new claims. Widely reported problems with filing in Florida and Texas -- two of the most populous states -- suggest the numbers will continue to be large as residents eventually become able to apply for benefits.

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What Bloomberg’s Economists Say

“The sudden and extraordinary deterioration in the labor market supports Bloomberg Economics’ expectation that the unemployment rate will head toward 15 per cent in April, and possibly higher later in the quarter unless the torrent of jobless filings starts to subside.”

-- Carl Riccadonna and Eliza Winger

Other Announcements

The Fed announced another series of sweeping steps to provide as much as $2.3 trillion in additional aid during the coronavirus pandemic, including starting programs to aid small and mid-sized businesses as well as state and local governments.

Prices paid to U.S. producers declined 0.2 per cent in March from a month earlier as energy costs plummeted the most in five years, Labor Department data showed Thursday.

Compared with a year earlier, the producer-price index rose 0.7 per cent, the smallest annual advance since 2016.

--With assistance from Chris Middleton, Benjamin Purvis, Sophie Caronello and Samuel Dodge.