Jobless claim filings continued at a historically unprecedented pace last week with 4.4 million new signups for unemployment insurance, bringing the total of the past five weeks to 26.4 million, the Labor Department said Thursday.
The total represented a decline of 810,000 from the previous week, but the five-week sum has now surpassed all of the job gains since the financial crisis.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting 4.3 million new claims.
“Another horrendous number, but at least the trajectory is clearly downwards,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics.
With virtually all other economic indicators pointing to the worst downturn since the Great Depression, jobless claims are seen as the most current way of measuring how deeply conditions have been impacted by social distancing associated with the coronavirus.
The total is far worse than anything the U.S. has seen before, with the previous one-week peak of 695,000 dating back to October 1982.
Still, the decline of the peak of a few weeks ago indicates “we’re likely seeing the peak in claims as people get back to work,” said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group. “Again, the pace at which they will is the question.”
Last week’s tally was revised down by 8,000 to 5.24 million.
Even though the total for the week ended April 18 fell, the continuous claims figure hit a new record at just under 16 million, an increase of 4 million from the previous period. The four-week moving average jumped to 5.8 million, an increase of 280,000.
The totals remain elevated as individual states continue to try to cope with the massive influx of new claims. Florida alone saw 324,718 new filings, nearly double the previous week, according to unadjusted figures. By contrast, New York saw a plunge of nearly 190,000, cutting its claims number in half from a week ago.
The government has rolled out rescue programs to help both those laid off and the companies forced to cut payrolls due to social distancing restriction and a collapse in demand. Claims numbers could remain elevated as the additional amounts provided in unemployment compensation raise some workers’ salaries above what they were making before the furloughs.
Companies also could struggle to hire back if demand doesn’t resume once the economy is restarted.
“The duration is really the key, to see how quickly we can put those on temporary layoff or furlough back on the payrolls,” said Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab.