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Another 6.6M workers filed jobless claims as layoffs surge

The U.S. economy continues to shed jobs at a jaw-dropping pace and there’s little sign the payroll losses will ease significantly anytime soon amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

About 6.6 million Americans filed unemployment benefit claims for the first time last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, reflecting another surge in layoffs and an economy that has continued to shut down in stomach-churning waves the past few weeks to minimize further contagion.

The previous week’s record 6.65 million jobless claims total was revised up by 219,000 to a new all-time high of 6.86 million. 

Economists had estimated that 5.5 million workers filed initial claims last week, according to a Bloomberg survey.

A staggering 17 million or so Americans now have sought unemployment benefits the past three weeks. The weekly figures dwarf the previous record of 695,000 weekly unemployment applications during a deep recession in October 1982.  

Forty-three states accounting for about 95% of the U.S. population are under stay-at-home orders, with nonessential businesses such as restaurants, stores, movie theaters and other outlets closed or sharply scaled back. Airlines and hotels also have been decimated as Americans shun air and other travel.

Applications for unemployment benefits -- a reliable gauge of layoffs – have exploded in recent weeks.

“There are reasons to think this is only the beginning,” says economist Jesse Edgerton of JPMorgan Chase. In February, he says, there were nearly 50 million workers in industries directly affected by coronavirus-related shutdowns.

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“Its effects are also likely to spread well beyond these sectors,” he says.

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