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Jobless benefit claims for last week could total in millions

The Labor Department on Thursday is set to release the most vivid evidence yet of the widespread economic damage the coronavirus outbreak already has wrought.

Markets and economists are bracing for Labor’s report on initial claims for unemployment benefits, which is expected to show that up to several million U.S. workers were laid off last week, the highest weekly tally on record. The data is set to be released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

The pandemic has set off the most abrupt near-shutdown of the U.S. economy in history. Many restaurants, shops, movie theaters, sports arenas and other gathering spots across the country suddenly closed their doors or scaled back service last week to contain the spread of the virus.

Economists have issued widely varying estimates of Thursday’s jobless claims total based on anecdotal reports by about 40 states to news outlets for the first few days of last week. Goldman Sachs estimated the national count will be about 2.25 million but said it could be as low as slightly more than 1 million. Morgan Stanley reckons about 3.4 million. Oxford Economics says about 4 million.

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