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CoronavirusPolitics & Money

Jobless claims double to all-time high

Surge comes as newly eligible gig workers apply for benefits

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits more than doubled from the prior week’s eye-popping number as Americans continued feeling the economic pain from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A total of 6.65 million people filed jobless claims in the week ended March 28, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That’s up from the prior record of 3.31 million for the previous week, which was revised upward.

The initial claim number, an early gauge of the jobs situation, was 10 times higher than the worst weekly reading during the financial crisis more than a decade ago.

Goldman Sachs economists, who correctly predicted the new number hours before its release, said initial claims “will remain very elevated in the coming weeks” and may total 18 million, collectively, by the end of April as the economic fallout from the pandemic continues.

The $2.2 trillion rescue bill passed by Congress last week adds $600 a week to the amount of benefit a jobless person gets, in an attempt to fully replace salaries. It also made gig workers like Uber drivers, freelancers and self-employed people eligible for the first time, which is one reason the number is so elevated.

Some state agencies have been unable to keep up with demand, an indication that next week’s numbers may be even higher, Wells Fargo economists said in a report after the data came out.

“As dramatic as the past two weeks’ increase has been, we doubt we are anywhere near the peak,” the economists said. “Numerous states report they are still having a difficult time processing the flood of claims.”

California had the most claims, at 879,000. Gov. Gavin Newsom was one of the earliest state leaders to order people to stay at home to try to stem the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. He declared a state of emergency on March 2, and issued a “Stay at Home” order on March 19, which made thousands of restaurant workers and other people in the service sector unemployed.

New York had 366,000 claims, Michigan reported 311,000, and Texas had about 276,000. All were record highs.

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