The Slatest

Nearly 17 Million Americans (and Counting) Have Now Lost Their Jobs

A gloved hand reaches out of a car window to collect unemployment forms from the gloved hand of a worker
A man collects unemployment forms at a drive-thru in Hialeah, Florida, on Wednesday. Chandan Khanna/Getty Images

Slate is making its coronavirus coverage free for all readers. Subscribe to support our journalism. Start your free trial.

Another 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, the Labor Department announced Thursday, bringing the number of coronavirus jobless claims to a staggering 16.8 million in the past three weeks. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits last week dipped slightly from the week before, where a record 6.9 million workers lost their jobs. By comparison, 200,000 people submitted jobless claims the week before the U.S. started shutting down economic activity to prevent the spread of the virus. The number of jobless Americans has now, in just weeks, eclipsed the number of jobs lost over two years of the Great Recession.

The number of unemployment claims is inflated by the newly expanded pool of Americans now eligible for unemployment benefits due to an emergency expansion of benefits by Congress. Now, some self-employed and independent contractors are eligible for benefits. With no end in sight for the lockdown in many states, analysts say the number of jobless Americans could swell to more than 20 million by the end of April, a number that would put the jobless rate at around 15 percent. Before the lockdown, February was the 113rd straight month of job growth, amounting to nearly 10 years.

The losses have been widely felt but particularly acute in states hit hardest by the coronavirus, like California, New York, and Michigan. California alone recorded nearly a million new job losses last week. Florida and Texas also showed jumps in unemployment claims, despite issuing stay-at-home orders mid–last week. The two states combined make up 15 percent of the country’s workforce, meaning the jobless rate could jump again when losses in both states are more fully incorporated in the coming weeks.