CNN — For the fifth week in a row, millions of American workers applied for unemployment benefits, seeking financial relief as businesses remained closed during the coronavirus pandemic.
First-time claims for unemployment benefits totaled 4.4 million in the week ending April 18, after factoring in seasonal adjustments, the US Department of Labor said.
Without those adjustments — which economists use to account for seasonal hiring fluctuations — the raw number was 4.2 million.
No matter how you look at the data, the last five weeks have marked the most sudden surge in jobless claims since the Department of Labor started tracking the data in 1967. American workers filed 26.5 million initial claims since March 14, according to the seasonally adjusted numbers.
Not all of those claims will result in benefits being paid. Some will be rejected because workers did not meet eligibility requirements. Even so, numbers at that level reflect a devastating blow to workers, indicating roughly 16.2% of the US labor force is suffering from layoffs, furloughs or reduced hours during the coronavirus pandemic.
Early studies have shown lower-income workers are particularly affected by job losses, and minorities, specifically black and Hispanic families, are expected to bear the brunt of the economic cost of this crisis.
Meanwhile, states continue to struggle to process the overwhelming volume of unemployment claims. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters Tuesday that his state had 1,000 people “just to take the incoming unemployment calls. That’s how high the volume is. And they still can’t keep up.”
And Florida’s state unemployment agency said on Tuesday that it had only paid a paltry 14% of the claims filed since March 15 — among the slowest in the country, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Just over a quarter of Florida’s claims were rejected because filers were found ineligible for the regular jobless benefits program. However, some may still qualify under a new pandemic unemployment assistance program that Congress created in the $2 trillion relief package last month.
Lawmakers temporarily extended the unemployment program to independent contractors, the self-employed, gig workers and those affected by the coronavirus — and states have scrambled to update their computer systems to process those new types of claims.