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Initial jobless claims data to show millions laid off

There probably won’t be much let-up in the nation’s grim tally of job losses, at least in the short term, as the coronavirus pandemic’s toll on the economy mounts.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg estimate the Labor Department will report Thursday that 5.5 million Americans filed initial applications for unemployment insurance last week, below the record 6.6 million who sought benefits the previous week. Jobless claims provide the best measure of layoffs across the country.

The figures are so outsized that forecasting them has become something of a crapshoot. Michelle Meyer, chief U.S. economist of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, predicts the latest initial claims total Thursday will be 6.5 million, and JPMorgan Chase estimates an all-time-high of 7 million.

“These numbers are off the charts,” Meyer says. “It tells you about the strain in corporate America as a result of COVID.” Meyer arrived at her estimate by extrapolating from the 16 states that reported 2.3 million claims last week, matching those states’ total for the prior week.

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