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36.5 Million Have Filed For Unemployment In 8 Weeks

Closed signs are seen Wednesday in businesses in Milwaukee. The coronavirus pandemic has left millions out of work.
Morry Gash
Closed signs are seen Wednesday in businesses in Milwaukee. The coronavirus pandemic has left millions out of work.

Updated at 5:19 p.m. ET

Nearly 3 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week — bringing the total to 36.5 million in the past eight weeks, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The number of people filing claims has been steadily dropping for weeks, since hitting nearly 7 million during one week in March. Still, claims remain at historically high levels, suggesting that the coronavirus isn't done pummeling the U.S. economy.

"Claims are slowly, stubbornly falling back toward a 'normal' level, but it is taking a frustratingly long time," says economist Thomas Simons of Jefferies LLC. "The outright level of continuing claims remains extremely disturbing."

Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics said first-time filings "remain at levels consistent with a labor market in distress."

The unemployment rate shot up to 14.7% last month — the highest level since the Great Depression. In February, before the coronavirus shutdowns took hold, unemployment was at a nearly 50-year low of 3.5%.

On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell painted a grim picture for the economy.

"The scope and speed of this downturn are without modern precedent, significantly worse than any recession since World War II," he said. A Fed survey found that nearly 40% of workers in households making less than $40,000 a year had lost a job in March, Powell noted.

The economy shrank at a 4.8% pace in the first quarter of 2020, but analysts are forecasting a double-digit drop in coming months.

Powell's comments sent stock prices plunging around the world, but they recovered somewhat on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average finishing 1.6% higher. Banks and energy stocks were among those gaining.

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Avie Schneider
Jim Zarroli
Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.
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