A record 3.3 million Americans have filed unemployment claims. What does that look like?

Janet Nguyen Mar 26, 2020
mdphoto16/Getty Images

A record 3.3 million Americans have filed unemployment claims. What does that look like?

Janet Nguyen Mar 26, 2020
mdphoto16/Getty Images

Almost 3.3 million Americans filed unemployment claims in the past week, the largest number on record.

That’s an increase of roughly 3 million since the week ending March 14, when 282,000 people filed claims. In the last five years, claims have averaged about 250,000 a week.

As the COVID-19 crisis shuts down businesses across the country, the Senate has agreed to a nearly $2 trillion economic relief package that will include loans for companies, along with direct checks and expanded unemployment benefits for Americans. 

Here’s a closer look at the data released by the Labor Department:

*Figures have been seasonally adjusted

The highest number on record had previously been during a week in October 1982, when the number of unemployment claims totaled 695,000. During that period, the U.S. had entered a recession, with unemployment reaching almost 11%.

At the height of the Great Recession, the unemployment rate stood at 10%. Unemployment claims peaked then in March 2009 with 665,000 unemployment claims.

This time around, James Bullard — president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis — told Bloomberg the unemployment rate could hit 30%.

And the data we’re getting right from government agencies might not even capture the full scope of the damage.

*Figures have not been seasonally adjusted. March 21 claims are “advance” claims, which are reported by the state liable for paying the unemployment compensation. Meanwhile, previous weeks’ reported claims reflect claimants by state of residence. 

Pennsylvania experienced the highest number of layoffs, at more than 378,900. For the week ending March 14, the state had more than 3,000 layoffs in accommodation and food services, transportation and warehousing, and educational service industries, according to the Labor Department report.

In California, for that same week, there were more than 14,000 layoffs in the service industry. The state is under strict lockdown, with Gov. Gavin Newsom ordering all 40 million residents to stay at home unless for essential services.

Other states seeing a high number of unemployment claims include Massachusetts, which had nearly 148,000 people file, and New York, where more than 80,000 did. New York, the U.S. epicenter of the spread of the novel coronavirus, has confirmed at least 5,100 cases and accounts for more than half of the country’s known cases.

*Calculations based on the rate of increase between advance claims for week ending March 21, and week ending March 14. Figures have not been seasonally adjusted.

The percentage increase in unemployment claims skyrocketed across the U.S., with New Hampshire topping the list. The state had more than 21,800 file unemployment claims, up from 642 for the week ending March 14.

“Many of the largest percentage increases that were seen in this first major spike in new claims were in a number of states where small and mid-sized businesses might be seen having a larger footprint,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate, in an emailed statement.

Hamrick added companies that lack scale tend to be mom-and-pop businesses, which may operate with thinner margins and less cash in the bank. In response to the crisis, they have to part with workers quickly.

Correction (March 26, 2020): A previous version of this story misstated the figure for unemployment claims in October of 1982. The text has been corrected.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

With a slow vaccine rollout so far, how has the government changed its approach?

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes to how the federal government is distributing vaccine doses. The CDC has expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with people with conditions that might raise their risks of complications from COVID-19. The new approach also looks to reward those states that are the most efficient by giving them more doses, but critics say that won’t address underlying problems some states are having with vaccine rollout.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

Read More


As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.