Jobless claims double in a week as coronavirus takes toll on US economy

Washington: Almost seven million Americans filed for unemployment insurance last week, setting a new record and stunning forecasters who said the figure was twice as large as they had expected.

Economists now say up to 20 million Americans could lose their jobs in coming months thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, sending the country's unemployment rate to a level not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

US President Donald Trump has presided over a record-setting jump in unemployment.Credit:Bloomberg

The outbreak continues to upend all aspects of American life, including the November presidential election.

The Democratic National Committee announced on Thursday (Friday AEDT) that it would delay its nomination convention from July 13 to August 17.

The convention – at which former vice president Joe Biden is expected to be crowned the party nominee – is now scheduled to be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, just a week before the Republican Party's convention.

An empty parking outside a closed Kohl’s store is shown in Indianapolis, Indiana.Credit:AP

"In our current climate of uncertainty, we believe the smart approach is to take additional time to monitor how this situation unfolds so we can best position our party for a safe and successful convention," Democratic National Convention chief executive Joe Solmonese said in a statement.

Over 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment in the week leading up to March 28, new figures released by the US Bureau of Labor statistics showed.

That was up from 3.3 million jobless claims the previous week, itself a record.

Before the outbreak began, only around 200,000 Americans were filing for unemployment in an average week.

"This is a staggering number," investment banker Steve Rattner told MSNBC.

"This suggests we are well on our way to massive unemployment in this country."

Jason Furman, who served as Barack Obama's top economic adviser, said they were the worst economic results he had ever seen.

In February, the unemployment rate was a half-century low 3.5 per cent. It is now already likely more than 10 per cent and rising.

The true number of workers who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic is likely to be far higher than the 10 million reported over the past fortnight.

Phone lines in hard-hit states such as New York have been swamped and websites have crashed under the strain, meaning many unemployed workers have not been able to file their claims.

Almost 90 per cent of all Americans are now living under some version of a stay-at home-order, bringing vast swathes of the country's economy to a complete halt.

Major department stores such as Macy's and JC Penny announced this week that they were furloughing hundreds of thousands of workers across the country.

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