More than 3 million Americans filed for unemployment claims last week

"It's beyond anything we have ever seen. It’s the speed that is so painful," one economist said.
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Pedestrians walk past a boarded up diner in San Francisco on March 24, 2020.David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images

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By Lucy Bayly

More than 3 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, according to new data released Thursday.

The massive spike in new jobless claims comes as nationwide lockdowns to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have kept Americans from their workplaces, grinding businesses to a halt and forcing many companies to shutter or to lay off staff.

Just 282,000 people filed for unemployment in the previous week, before lockdowns began, according to the Department of Labor.

Thursday's numbers are just "the tip of the iceberg," Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, said as she noted that these figures do not even include data from this week.

"Businesses cannot plan for this kind of sudden stop of cash flow," she told NBC News. "This isn’t a 'rainy day fund' situation."

California alone is seeing jobless claims of more than 100,000 a day, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

“We just passed the 1 million mark, in terms of the number of claims, just since March 13,” Newsom said.

Stock futures had rallied overnight after the Senate passed a historic $2 trillion economic rescue package, but all three major averages tumbled after the jobs numbers were released.

The rescue package contains specific measures to address the spike in unemployment claims.

"It is reasonable to expect that some, perhaps many, but not all, of these jobs will come back once we venture back into public," Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com, said. "One of the goals of the legislation now moving through Congress is to help many businesses survive and retain workers."

"It's beyond anything we have ever seen. It’s the speed that is so painful," Swonk said.

The highest recorded number of unemployment claims came in October 1982, when 695,000 people filed for benefits.