The US recorded 5.2 million unemployment claims last week, taking the total over the past month to more than 20 million.
It is the worst stretch of American job losses on record, with much of the world’s biggest economy at a standstill due to lockdown measures put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus.
It comes as Donald Trump insists that the number of new cases in the US has passed its peak and stressed his keenness to re-start economic activity, claiming the country will be the “comeback kid”.
The latest weekly tally from Washington’s department of labour adds to the 6.6 million claims seen the week before, a record 6.9 million the week before that, and 3.3 million in the prior seven days.
That means roughly 22 million people have sought jobless benefits in the last four weeks – and experts think there will be more big numbers to come.
Joseph Briggs, an economist at Goldman Sachs, said: “We expect that claims will remain very elevated in coming weeks as states struggle to clear backlogs and more companies lay off workers in response to the shutdown
“Including this week, we currently project an additional 20 million in initial jobless claims through the end of May, after which we expect new claims to fall to levels consistent with prior recessions.”
It come as all businesses seen as non-essential have been closed in nearly every state with deep job losses inflicted on every industry.
Some economists think the unemployment rate will rise as high as 20%, soaring past the damage inflicted during the financial crisis just over a decade ago to a level unmatched since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Lay-offs are spreading beyond the likes of hotels, bars and restaurants, which absorbed the initial job cuts, to encompass white-collar occupations including software programmers and sales people.
The latest figures underscore the likelihood that the US, like other major economies, is being tipped into a severe recession by the impact of the coronavirus crisis.
Earlier this week the IMF forecast that the American economy would shrink by 5.9% in 2020 while some experts think the damage caused will be even worse – before an expected rebound when the lockdown ends.
Notable US job announcements in recent days have come from electronics chain Best Buy – which said it will furlough 51,000 employees – and Toast – a software company that works with restaurants and has cut 1,300 jobs, half its workforce.
The latest jobs figures come a day after dismal data showing a record drop in US retail sales in March and the biggest decline in factory output since 1946.