10 Percent of U.S. Labor Force Have Made Unemployment Claims in the Last Three Weeks

Ten percent of the U.S. labor force have filed jobless claims over the last three weeks, new unemployment data shows.

The Department of Labor revealed on Thursday that a staggering 6.6 million people made initial claims for unemployment benefits in the week ending April 4.

In its new data release, the labor department said the raft of jobless claims came as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to put people out of work. It added that the virus' impacts were "also reflected in the increasing levels of insured unemployment."

Initial jobless claims in the week ending April 4 dipped slightly on the week before—when a record shattering 6.8 million people made claims for unemployment insurance, revised up from the 6.6 million the labor department originally reported.

But the combined number of jobless claims filed over the last three weeks still paints a bleak picture for U.S households and the future of the American economy.

Volunteer Hands Out Unemployment Applications
Eddie Rodriguez, who works for the City of Hialeah, hands out unemployment applications to people in front of the John F. Kennedy Library on April 08, 2020 in Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Around 16.7 million people filed for unemployment across America between March 14 and April 4—or 10.3 percent of the entire civilian labor force, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

David Wilcox, nonresident senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former director of the Federal Reserve Board's Division of Research and Statistics, said: "For the third week in a row, the claims numbers came in at a level previously unimaginable."

Asked how the current unemployment situation compared to the financial crash, he told Newsweek by email: "This situation today differs most dramatically from the 2007-9 period in the speed at which the collapse has occurred.

"It's important to keep in mind, for example, that as many claims have been filed in the past three weeks alone as were filed over the course of thirty weeks starting in September 2008, as the economy was moving into the worst phase of the financial crisis."

Wilcox added that it was becoming "increasingly difficult" to see how the unemployment rate would not pass the post-Depression peak of December 1982.

"The remaining issue on that front is by how much," he said. "The increasingly likely answer is 'by a lot.'

"The question of paramount importance now is how quickly the state offices can process this avalanche of claims and get benefits flowing to the households that desperately need them."

In a statement on the latest jobless claim numbers, Josh Lipsky, director of the Atlantic Council's global business & economics program, said: "This week, as families gather for Easter and Passover, millions will be worried about putting food on the table.

"Today's weekly jobless claims report should shock Congress back into action. The American worker can't wait until the end of the month for relief. Already we see the small business fund being drained more rapidly than expected. The end of the unemployment extension is fast approaching."

The former Department of Labor chief economist Heidi Shierholz tweeted: "The labor market has been upended. Each and every one of the nearly 17 million workers who applied for unemployment insurance in the last three weeks is a person, a family, experiencing a life crisis. The scope of suffering is overwhelming."

The U.S. unemployment rate peaked at 24.9 percent amid the Great Depression and reached a post-Depression record of 10.8 percent in December 1982.

As the U.S. dealt with the fallout of the Financial Crash of 2007 to 2009, unemployment spiked at 10 percent of the U.S. workforce in October 2009 before starting a decade-long decline.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that decline was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic in March, when the U.S. unemployment rate jumped to 4.4 percent from 3.5 percent in February.

The U.S. Dollar Index dropped slightly before the Department of Labor released its latest weekly jobless claim figures on Thursday morning amid market nerves. CNN also reported that U.S. stock futures were mute before markets opened, experiencing only minor sways.