Record 22 million Americans file for unemployment benefits

A record 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits over the past month, erasing a decade of job gains as the nation grapples with the unprecedented shutdown of the U.S. economy to contain the coronavirus.

About 5.2 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday.  Jobless claims provide the best measure of layoffs across the country. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had estimated that 5.5 million Americans would file initial applications for unemployment insurance last week. 

That brings the total claims over the past four weeks to a staggering 22 million. By comparison, the labor market added 21.5 million jobs since the Great Recession.

“After an unprecedented climb, initial unemployment claims appear to have reached a vertiginous plateau,” Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist of Oxford Economics, said in a note. “While it now appears that we have passed the peak in layoffs, jobless claims are poised to remain extraordinarily high in coming weeks as the economy plunges deeper into a recession.”

Oxford Economics projects job losses of 24 million in April, and the unemployment rate is forecast to spike to 14%. The firm anticipates that some jobs will be recouped once the virus is contained and economic activity recovers, but it doesn’t expect the U.S. economy to reach pre-coronavirus levels of employment until early 2022.