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6.6 Million: Retail Furloughs Jack Up Jobless Claims

The number of first-timer filers for unemployment benefits in the U.S. shot up to 6.6 million, and that’s on top of the then-record 3.3 million filings last week.

The latest report from the U.S. Labor Department brings the total to 10 million for the past two weeks alone, signaling the terrible toll the coronavirus pandemic has exacted on the American economy.

Over the past 14 days, retailers have announced a steady cadence of layoffs and furloughs. H&M furloughed “tens of thousands” of employees, along with some permanent layoffs. Nordstrom last week said it’s temporarily shedding some staff, and Macy’s on Monday reported plans to furlough nearly 130,000 staff members across retail stores and its corporate headquarters.

The surge in new unemployment claims matches the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., which has more than 216,000 cases, with about 941,000 worldwide.

The latest report is before the new $2.2 trillion federal emergency aid package was signed into law by President Trump last week. The aid package includes federal unemployment benefits for displaced workers on top of what they might be eligible for under state benefits.

As more retailers announced furloughs this week, the record number of first-time filers is expected to continue climbing. Retailers said they plan to bring back furloughed workers once they are able to re-open their doors. However, the peak of the virus outbreak is yet to come, and expected near the end of April or sometime in May, in a best-case scenario.