(BBC) – A further 4.4 million Americans sought unemployment benefits last week as the economic toll from the coronavirus pandemic continued to mount.
The new applications brought the total number of jobless claims since mid-March to 26.4 million.
That amounts to more than 15% of the US workforce.
However, the most recent data marked the third week that the number of new claims has declined, raising hopes that the worst of the shock may be over.
“While this week’s 4.4 million jobless claims are staggering, there are signs that the pace of layoffs has reached its peak,” said Richard Flynn, UK managing director at financial service firm Charles Schwab.
“The key questions at this point are when can the economy reopen and what happens when it does?”
Economists have warned that the world is facing the sharpest slowdown since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
In the US, the economy is expected to contract 5.9% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. In just five weeks, the surge in unemployment claims has exceeded the number of jobs created in the near-decade of expansion that ended in February.
A Pew Research Center survey estimates that 43% of households have been hit by a coronavirus-related job loss or pay cut, a share that rises to more than half among adults with lower-incomes.
The US government has responded to the crisis with more than $2 trillion in relief, expanding eligibility for unemployment benefits and increased the payments, among other measures.
A record 16 million Americans received the benefits in the week ended 11 April, the Labor Department said.But many people have had trouble getting through to state offices processing the applications.