Claims for unemployment benefits rose to a record 6.6 million in the past week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to take its toll on the U.S. economy.
The number of claims doubled last week’s record of 3.3 million. Three weeks ago, there were about 281,000 claims.
Some state unemployment offices have been overwhelmed by the number of people applying for benefits, which will increase by $600 per week under the $2.2 trillion economic rescue package signed by President Trump last week.
The latest number shocked analysts, most of whom had forecast about 3 million to 4 million claims for the week ending March 28. Never in U.S. history had 10 million workers lost their jobs in two weeks.
Many employers are cutting payrolls as their revenue plummets, particularly at restaurants, hotels and retail outlets.
Most governors have issued stay-at-home orders, further limiting business transactions just as rent and other bills came due at the beginning of April.
Grants and loans for small businesses will be available beginning on Friday from a $350 billion fund included in the rescue package through the Small Business Administration and most lenders. The aim of the plan is to allow employers to retain their workers for eight weeks and pay some of their overhead expenses.
Some analysts said the staggering job losses will put more pressure on Congress and the White House to approve a “phase four” rescue bill.
“The phase three stimulus was much-needed temporary relief but phase four should come together rapidly in the hopes of avoiding a long-term joblessness situation akin to the Great Depression,” said Josh Lipsky, director of global business and economics programs at the Atlantic Council. “Across many communities and throughout small businesses, the situation is growing more desperate by the day. We are beginning to see dangerous default rates in the mortgage markets. State officials are overwhelmed and unable to process unemployment claims.”
President Trump has proposed a $2 trillion “phase four” plan focused on rebuilding the nation’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also is calling for a new plan including infrastructure spending, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday called her push “premature.”
He said Mrs. Pelosi should “stand down” from any proposals that would add spending unrelated to the pandemic in another bill.