30 million Americans have filed initial unemployment claims since mid-March

By Anneken Tappe, CNN Business

    (CNN) -- Millions more Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, as the coronavirus crisis continued to weigh on the US economy.

First-time claims for unemployment benefits totaled 3.8 million in the week ending April 25, 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 3.5 million.

That brings the total number of first-time claims to 30.3 million over the past six weeks — representing roughly 18.6% of the US labor force — as businesses have laid off and furloughed workers during stay-at-home orders across the country.

After peaking at 6.9 million in the last week of March, claims have fallen each of the last four weeks — an encouraging sign that at least things aren't getting worse.

But overall, joblessness remains a dire problem. Friday marks May 1, and for millions of Americans, rents and mortgage payments will be due. Unemployment benefits are one of the key forms of financial aid that are helping families plug the gap.

As part of a $2 trillion CARES Act package signed last month, Congress expanded unemployment benefits to include an extra $600 per week on top of state benefits, for up to four months. They also expanded the eligibility requirements to include independent contractors, gig workers and self-employed workers.

Not all claims result in paid benefits. Continued jobless claims, representing workers who filed for their second week of benefits or more, stood at nearly 18 million in the week ended April 25, after seasonal adjustments, up from 15.8 million in the prior week.

Many claimants have faced delays in receiving their benefits, as state labor agencies have scrambled to update their intake systems in response to guidance from the Department of Labor. President Trump signed the CARES Act on March 27, and according to a statement from the Department of Labor released on Wednesday, it took until April 28 for all 50 states to get the emergency payments up and running.

Next week, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its official jobs report for April.

That report is expected to show the US unemployment rate surged to 14% in April. That would be the highest since the monthly data series began in 1948. During the Great Depression, annual estimates show the unemployment rate peaked at 24.9% in 1933.

The nation's official unemployment rate is estimated from a survey of about 60,000 households — not the number of unemployment claims. To be counted as "unemployed" in that report, survey respondents need to have been out of work but available to work, and actively searched for a job in the prior four weeks.

How high the jobless rate will go and how long it will take to come down again will depend on the shape and pace of the economic recovery.

--This is a developing story. It will be updated

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