Unemployment claims rose last week as one in 10 Americans was thrown out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 6.6 million unemployment claims were filed last week, a slight decline from the more than 6.8 million claims made the previous week, the U.S. Department of Labor reported.

The unemployment rate for the week ended March 28 was 5.1%, an increase of 3 percentage points from a week earlier. The week ended March 28 also marked a historical high, since 1948, for unemployment claims with 7.4 million seeking benefits, an increase of 4.3 million from the prior week's revised level.

“In just three weeks, COVID-19 has triggered a jobs crisis that is truly unthinkable in its scale and scope, stretching from coast-to-coast and impacting service jobs that once seemed immune to economic ups and downs,” Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation and one of the nation’s leading unemployment insurance experts, said.

“Now, workers and communities are anxiously waiting to see if our public response to the dual health and economic crises can do a better job than it has to date to staunch the bleeding of jobs,” he continued.

The Associated Press reported more than 20 million Americans could lose their jobs this month alone, sending the total number of unemployment claims skyrocketing. Many industries have laid off millions of workers deemed nonessential in the wake of shelter-in-place orders that have hit 48 states to date.

The states of California, New York, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Texas and New Jersey saw the highest level of unemployment claims for the week ending March 28. Decreases in claims were seen in Nevada, Rhode Island, and Minnesota for the same week.

“Until more help comes, Americans will be forced to lean on the unemployment system like never before,” Stettner said. “Fortunately, despite the unprecedented volumes we’re seeing placed on state UI systems, workers are starting to secure the help they so desperately need .

“Today’s report indicates that insured unemployment has climbed from 1.8 million on March 14 to 7.5 million on March 28. In other words, of the 10 million workers who filed for help in the two weeks ending on March 28, 53% have already had their applications processed,” he added.

While the CARES Act has plans to offer more benefits to unemployed workers, it may not be enough. Diane Swonk, a chief economist at Grant Thornton and an advisor for the Federal Reserve, said Congress needs to do more.

She said in a tweet on Thursday morning, “Congress needs to multitask – need to start thinking about automatic stabilizers to kick in for workers unemployed longer, food subsidiaries, sick leave, transfers to states, protocols for sanitizing work places. What about PPE for everyone? Test, tracking and how to quarantine.”

She also suggested: “There are major decisions that must been made soon – can’t afford to keep chasing moving target. Congress can’t sit back and wait for the next shoe to drop. The one benefit that we have is that we know that reopening will come but be slow and methodical. Need to brace/prep.”

Unemployed person seeking a job. Reuters