Updated at 10:38 a.m. ET
The number of new people claiming unemployment benefits totaled a staggering 6.648 million last week — doubling the record set a week earlier, the Labor Department said Thursday.
In the prior week, ending March 21, a revised 3.307 million initial claims were filed. But analysts said even that lofty number was low because many states’ employment websites were overwhelmed, making it difficult for applicants to get through. A year earlier, the weekly total was just 211,000.
Much of the country has been ordered to stay at home for at least several weeks to help fight the spread of the coronavirus. That has forced most businesses to close — bringing the economy to a lurching halt and throwing millions of people out of work.
Nearly every state reporting on claims cited the pandemic’s broad impact.
“States continued to identify increases related to the services industries broadly, again led by accommodation and food services,” the Labor Department said. “However, state comments indicated a wider impact across industries.”
California had the most new claims filed, with 878,727 — an increase of 692,394. In New York, new claims totaled 366,403 — up 286,404. Pennsylvania’s total was 405,880, an increase of 28,429.
Thursday’s report is only a hint of things to come for the economy.
The unemployment rate — which has been at a nearly 50-year low of 3.5% — is expected to shoot up, with some estimates putting it at 15%. Friday’s employment report for March is not expected to reflect the full impact because it’s based on surveys conducted before massive layoffs began.
But forecasters at Oxford Economics project about 20 million people will lose their jobs in the coming weeks. And Goldman Sachs expects the economy to shrink at a record 34% annual rate in the next quarter.