Nearly 3 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits totaled a seasonally adjusted 2.981 million for the week ended May 9, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was down from 3.176 million in the prior week and marked the sixth straight weekly drop.
The latest numbers lifted to 36.5 million the number of people who have filed claims for unemployment benefits since mid-March, or more than one in five workers losing their job.
Economists said weak demand is causing layoffs of workers in industries and jobs not initially affected by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus shutdowns. They also attributed the continued elevation in claims to the processing of application backlogs, which accumulated as state unemployment offices were overwhelmed by the unprecedented wave of applications.
The economy lost 20.5 million jobs in April, the steepest plunge in payrolls since the Great Depression of the 1930s. While there are no signs yet that the reopening of businesses will ease unemployment, there is cautious hope that April was probably the trough for job losses during this economic downturn, which has also been marked by the sharpest decline in output since the 2007-09 Great Recession.
Some businesses have accessed loans from an almost $3 trillion fiscal package, which could be partially forgiven if they used the credit for employee salaries. But many small enterprises are expected to close permanently, leaving some of the 21.4 million people who lost their jobs in March and April out of work for a long time.
Thursday’s claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 456,000 to a record 22.833 million for the week ending May 2. The so-called continuing claims data is reported with a one-week lag and will be closely watched in the coming months to get a better sense of the depth of the labor market downturn.
The Labor Department also reported that 3.4 million people had their applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) processed in the week ending April 25. The PUA program covers gig workers and many others who do not qualify for regular insurance unemployment, but have been forced out of work because of COVID-19.
Reuters contributed to this report