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A decade of job growth vanishes in less than a month

Over 6 million file for unemployment
Over 6 million file for unemployment 04:22

The ranks of Americans filing for unemployment swelled in the first week of April, with 6.6 million seeking jobless benefits. That brings the total number of Americans on unemployment to 16.8 million in just a month, experts say, wiping out nearly all the jobs gained under both Barack Obama and President Donald Trump. 

About 6.6 million people filed for unemployment in the week ended April 4, the U.S. Department of Labor said on Thursday. Unemployment claims, reported weekly, are a barometer for the job market because they indicate how many workers have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic

Under Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump, the economy had added about 18.3 million jobs. Over the last three weeks, the economy has suffered 16.8 million layoffs, according to High Frequency Economics.

The latest unemployment claims are "absolutely stunning," said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation and an expert on unemployment insurance, by email. 

"In just three weeks, COVID-19 has triggered a jobs crisis that is truly unthinkable in its scale and scope, stretching from coast-to-coast and impacting service jobs that once seemed immune to economic ups and downs," Stettner said.

Economists say that crisis is likely to intensify. Oxford Economics expects as many as 30 million U.S. job losses stemming from the virus — that would be three times the number of jobs that disappeared after the housing crash. 

Waiting for jobless pay

Many workers are still waiting for their jobless claims, with many state systems struggling to handle the historic surge in unemployment applications. Typically, unemployment benefits arrive within two to three weeks. 

But workers who have lost their jobs during the past month have told CBS MoneyWatch it's been a struggle to reach their unemployment offices because of the competing crush of other out-of-work employees.

Florida struggles with unemployment surge 02:07

For the 10 million workers who had filed for jobless benefits for the two weeks ended March 28, just over half have had their applications processed, Stettner estimates. 

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the nation's unemployment rate was 3.5%, a 50-year low. But many economists think unemployment has jumped into the mid-teens — that would  be much higher than the 10% peak jobless rate during the financial crisis.

America's death toll from COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, is approaching 15,000, while the number of confirmed cases nationwide has reached more than 430,000.

"This week brought early signs that the restrictions put in place over recent weeks are flattening the epidemic curve in the U.S.," Michael Pearce of Capital Economics said in a note. "But set against that good news, there are clearer signs that the hit to employment has been harder" than the market research firm had expected. 

In another sign of the pandemic's seismic hit on the economy, a closely watched gauge of consumer confidence fell sharply to an eight-year low, the University of Michigan said Thursday. The decline in consumer sentiment was the largest monthly drop ever recorded by the index.

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