Coronavirus: 40 million Americans unemployed since start of pandemic, figures show

While the rate of Americans filing for unemployment aid has continued to fall for eight consecutive weeks, it remains historically high

Donald Trump reacts to record US unemployment figures

More than 2.1 million Americans filed for unemployment last week as the coronavirus pandemic continued to cause one of the largest stretches of job loss in US history, with over 40 million reporting of a loss of work since the outbreak began.

The rate of first-time applicants requesting unemployment aid has fallen for eight weeks consecutively, though the weekly figures remain historically high.

A total of nearly 41 million people have sought unemployment benefits since the start of the pandemic, while the latest report indicates another 21 million people remain without work.

The unemployment rate has meanwhile climbed to the highest point since the Great Depression, as analysts forecasted those figures to remain in the double digits through the summer months, and some estimating it could reach 20 per cent in May.

The Commerce Department reported on Thursday that the gross domestic product (GDP), the broadest measure of economic health, fell at an annual rate of 5 per cent in the first quarter, a bigger decline than the 4.8 per cent drop first estimated a month ago.

It was the biggest quarterly decline since an 8.4 per cent fall in the fourth quarter of 2008 during the depths of the financial crisis.

The downward revision to first quarter GDP reflected weaker investment by businesses in their inventories which was partially offset by slightly stronger consumer spending.

Economists believed the lockdowns that shut wide swathes of the economy and triggered the layoffs of millions of workers will send the GDP sinking at an annual rate of 40 per cent in the current quarter. That would be the biggest quarterly decline in records that go back to 1947. It would be four times the size of the previous decline set back in 1958.

Many forecasters believe growth will rebound sharply in the July-September quarter, with the Congressional Budget Office predicting GDP will rise at an annual rate of 21.5 per cent. Still, that gain would not be nearly enough to make up for the economic output that was lost during the first and second quarters.

And many economists worry that the positive GDP performance being forecast for the second half of the year may not come about if the current efforts to reopen the economy do not go well. If the relaxing of stay-at-home rules results in a second wave of the coronavirus, that could be a serious setback to efforts to get consumers out shopping again in stores and eating in restaurants.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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