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Weekly Unemployment Claims in the United States Spike to Unprecedented Highs

March 26, 2020
Insurance claims for unemployed workers leapt by more than 3 million claimants this week.

Data released early March 26 by the Department of Labor show that the COVID-19 outbreak had a profound impact on unemployment figures last week. The advance figure for initial unemployment insurance claims was 3,283,000. Compared to the week before, that’s an increase of 3,001,000 claims from 282,000. The figure was adjusted to accommodate for seasonal employment changes.

According to the Department of Labor, “nearly every state” blamed the COVID-19 viral outbreak for the spike. The latest figure is more than quadruple the previous record high of unemployment claims in October 1982 of 695,000.

In an interview on CNBC, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin downplayed the concerning number, saying that the $2.2 trillion aid package passed by the Senate late March 25 would help affected employees. The aid package includes loans for businesses that continue to pay their workers instead of laying them off.

On a state level, the coronavirus impact might be seen affecting earlier unemployment figures as well. The largest increases in unemployment claims for the second week of March came from California and Washington, which saw increases of 14,221 and 7,624, respectively, in people applying for unemployment benefits.

Those states were early epicenters of the virus’ progress in the United States, although both have since been passed by New York in active cases. Despite that, neither state mentioned COVID-19 in notes attached to those numbers: Both mentioned layoffs in service industries, and Washington also included transportation and warehousing. Less impacted states Massachusetts and New Jersey were quicker to blame the virus for their own increases in unemployment claims, as both included comments for the week of March 14 indicating that COVID-19 was impacting their unemployment claims.

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