Some 3.2 million Americans applied for unemployment insurance benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That brings the total number of workers who have applied for jobless aid to 33 million in the past two months.
Put another way, fully one-fifth of the U.S. labor force has applied for jobless benefits in that time — an unprecedented figure since records have been kept going back to the 1940s.
The biggest increases in unemployment applications around the country were in Alabama, Georgia, New York, Oregon and Washington State, where layoffs hit a broad range of sectors including construction, educational services, trade, and transportation and warehousing.
"The data point to an unprecedented cascading crisis that hit front-line services like restaurants and retail businesses first, but has now reached into every corner of our economy, from manufacturing to even the health care industry," Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said in a statement.
The number of people who have received unemployment benefits, a figure known as "continuing claims," rose to 22 million. Separately, another 1.1 million people applied for pandemic unemployment assistance in the past two weeks, reflecting jobless workers who aren't eligible for traditional unemployment assistance because they are classified as contractors.
The latest labor data, while staggering, marks the fifth straight week that unemployment claims have dropped, suggesting that layoffs may have peaked. At this rate, weekly claims should drop below a million by June, Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note.
"[W]e're very hopeful that June will see the beginnings of a rebound as states begin to reopen," Shepherdson wrote, while noting that "we'll be largely in the dark about the speed with which firms start to bring back employees."
The Labor Department is set to release April unemployment figures on Friday. Economists forecast that more than 20 million jobs were lost last month and that the nation's annualized unemployment rate surged to between 15% and 20%.