• The U.S. Labor Department said unemployment claims surged to 6.6 million for the week ended March 28
  • Jobless claims for the last two weeks totaled at least 10 million
  • Some economists have cautioned that more claims are going unreported as changes to unemployment from the $2 trillion stimulus package have yet to be implemented yet

The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday initial unemployment claims surged last week to more than 6.6 million, doubling the 3.3 million claims filed for the week before. Economists feared the figure was actually larger as states reported problems with their filing processes.

“The cataclysmic jobless claims today show that lightning can indeed strike twice,” Century Foundation senior fellow Andrew Stettner said in an email to IBTimes.

It’s the latest hit on a job market that has suffered since the coronavirus pandemic exploded in the U.S. last month. The figure is significantly higher than the 3.1 million projected claims from economists following the 3.3 million claims for the week of March 21. It also brings the three week unemployment total to more than 10 million, the highest it has been since the Great Depression left 15 million people unemployed.

The unemployment figures set to be released Friday likely will not reflect the job losses unless the Labor Department adjusts its parameters. The monthly survey was completed on March 12, before states began instituting shelter-in-home orders and closing nonessential businesses as the pandemic picked up steam.

Pennsylvania had the highest number of filings with 362,012, followed by Ohio’s 189,263 claims and Massachusetts’141,003 claims. On the other end was South Dakota, which only had 1,571 filings for the week that ended March 28. West Virginia and Vermont were not far ahead with 2,671 and 3,125 claims, respectively.

Former Vice President Joe biden called Thursday's figures "alarming," saying in a press release it puts "working families and the American middle class through unimaginable financial pain -- and they need to be made whole as fast as possible."

The Democratic presidential hopeful called for "extraordinary steps" to help those who have lost their jobs. He also urged the administration to reopen the healthcare exchanges to allow those without health insurance to buy coverage.

“We’ve lived through the recession and 9/11. What we’re seeing with this decline is actually worse than both of those events,” CareerBuilder CEO Irina Novoselsky told CNBC. She said some of the hardest job markets hit included restaurant staff, such as bartenders and waiters, and athletic personnel. Minorities have also been hit “disproportionately” hard.

“Minorities are being disproportionately affected in the displacement,” Novoselsky said. “So a lot of the positive wage differential that we’d seen shrinking over the past 10 years both from females and African Americans, we’re going to see some of it going away.”

Some economists have cautioned that the numbers could be worse, as they are “underreported” and don’t reflect changes made to unemployment in the coronavirus care package. This included Grant Thorton LLP Chief Economist Diane Swonk, who took to Twitter to voice her concern.

Nobel-laureate economist and author Paul Krugman expanded on Swonk’s concerns, saying that global economy may not bounce back as rapidly as others think it will after the pandemic has passed.

Journalist Robert Samuelson took those concerns a step further, saying that he fears the possibility of a large economic depression for the first time since the 1930s.

Samuelson said the current downturn is reminiscent of the Great Depression in that any previous sense of control over the economy seems to be “fading.” He pointed to increasing deficits, slashing interest rates, and an alleged sense of “entitlement” surrounding social programs that serve as safety nets for the unemployed.

Unemployment in the United States was at low levels not seen in decades before the coronavirus struck, but now jobless benefit claims have increased by millions
Unemployment in the United States was at low levels not seen in decades before the coronavirus struck, but now jobless benefit claims have increased by millions GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / SPENCER PLATT