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Pandemic puts 5% of Americans out of work as unemployment claims climb

(CN) — For the second week in a row, 6.6 million Americans filed initial claims for unemployment benefits, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday, showing a sliver of the economic fallout from the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

About 261,000 fewer people filed claims during the last week of March as compared with the previous week, but the number still towers over previous records set during the 2008 recession and World War II. Over the past three weeks, more than 16 million Americans filed new claims for benefits — about 5% of the total population.

“The Covid-19 virus continues to impact the number of initial claims and its impact is also reflected in the increasing levels of insured unemployment,” the report explains.

The bureau’s March report counted 701,000 job loses throughout the month.

While this nears the 19.8 million job-loss mark estimated by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, others estimate 66.8 million jobs at risk for layoffs, meaning the unemployment rate can conceivably hit 30%.

Analysis by Goldman Sachs confirms the near-halting of the U.S. economy, and others including former chair of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen predict it likely to contract at a 30% annual rate over the next quarter.

Around the country, workers grapple for stability.

“We don’t have a social safety net in place that will keep families afloat,” said Erin Hatton, a labor sociologist and associate professor in the University of Buffalo. Her research centers around questions of who has access to work.