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Millions of Americans have already lost their jobs as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. According to the Federal Reserve, it’s about to get worse.

Economists at the Fed’s St. Louis district said Tuesday the national unemployment rate could hit 32.1%, obliterating the all-time high of 24.9% set in 1933 during the Great Depression.

“These are very large numbers by historical standards, but this is a rather unique shock that is unlike any other experienced by the U.S. economy in the last 100 years,” St. Louis Fed economist Miguel Faria-e-Castro wrote in a research paper posted last week, as reported by CNBC.

A record 3.3 million Americans filed initial jobless claims for the week ended March 21, and according to economists surveyed by Dow Jones, another 2.65 million could join them this week.

The ‘true’ unemployment rate might actually surpass the Fed’s official projections, however, as headline unemployment fails to account for workers who may drop out of the labor force. Further, the projections do not estimate the impact of recently passed government stimulus measures, which will extend unemployment benefits and subsidize companies for not cutting staff.

In short, getting an accurate unemployment rate projection in the current economic climate is a little like playing ‘Guess Your Weight’ at a traveling carnival. It’s an educated guess that could be way off the mark or right on the money. The only difference is that regardless of the outcome, we still get the booby prize.

But while headline unemployment estimates are undoubtedly an emotional punch to the gut, most economists predict the downturn will be comparatively brief.

James Bullard, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, told CNBC last week that while the jobless number “will be unparalleled, but don’t get discouraged. This is a special quarter, and once the virus goes away and if we play our cards right and keep everything intact, then everyone will go back to work and everything will be fine.”

Experts say the more immediate concern at the moment is the health of the American people. The White House said Monday that there could be anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.

WIBC host Tony Katz examines the numbers and offers perspective in the clip below.

Photo: Bettman/Getty Images