US unemployment claims rise by a record 6.65 million – and worse is set to come

The coronavirus pandemic has led to 10 million people applying for unemployment benefits in two weeks, the sharpest increase in American history. 

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Economists predicted that the blow to the US economy from coronavirus would be bad. They just didn’t predict it would be this bad. More than 6.65 million people in the country have filed for unemployment benefits in the past week. Around 3.3 million filed the week before that. This means that in the past two weeks a total of 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits. It is the sharpest rise in claims in US history, and by a considerable margin; by comparison, prior to last week, the most dramatic rise was in 1982 (695,000 claims).

Graph by Ben Walker

Various parts of the US are essentially shut down as cities and states try to minimise the loss of life from the pandemic. Consequently, losses have been reported in almost every economic sector, which, in turn, and means layoffs. Every US state has experienced a rise in unemployment claims.

Some, however, believe that the real pain is still to be felt. The Bank of America economist Joseph Song, for example, told CNN that the real “trauma” will be felt not this Friday (3 April), when the March US jobs report is published, but at the end of April; the jobs report for this coming month, he said, will show “unprecedented” losses. And attached to those losses are Americans now trying to make it through this crisis without a job or the salary and benefits that one provides.

Emily Tamkin is the New Statesman’s US editor

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