US unemployment claims hit all-time weekly record

The number of people without jobs in the US has surged to a record high as the economy goes into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 3.3 million people registered to claim unemployment benefits for the week ended 21 March, according to Department of Labour data. The previous record was set in 1982, when unemployment claims were just 695,000.

The news comes as officials in states across the country close restaurants, bars, movie theatres, hotels and gyms. Car firms have halted production and air travel has fallen precipitously. According to economists, a fifth of the workforce is on some form of lockdown. State officials, who process unemployment claims, have reported being overwhelmed by requests for the benefits, which analysts said means the situation could be even worse than the data currently show.

Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Economics, said he expects to see the unemployment rate increase to to at least 6.5% in March - nearly double the prior rate - and continue to accelerate in future months. "I've been writing about the US economy ... since 1996, and this is the single worst data point I've seen, by far," he wrote.

In Washington, Congress is working on a $2tn stimulus bill, which includes direct payments of $1,200 to adults as well as financing for affected industries, such as airlines. The Federal Reserve has also taken unprecedented steps to shore up the economy. But even with such action, a sharp contraction is inevitable, analysts said.

More on this subject: Coronavirus

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