WASHINGTON (AP/KDKA) — Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — more than quadruple the previous record set in 1982 — amid a widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.

According to the Department of Labor and Industry in Pennsylvania, in just two weeks, almost 650,000 people filed.

“Fielding a ton of calls, a lot of those are calling and asking for some guidance on how to register with the unemployment compensation system,” said PA CareerLink Operator, Sean Stanbro.

Right now those offices at the state and local levels are getting bogged down.

We reached out to the state department, they said, “due to the large volume of claims being filed, applying online is the fastest and easiest way to get started.”

They even waived some requirements.

But there’s also a large response from people looking for work.

“We’re seeing jobs that were surging months ago that are now tumbling. And other jobs in other sectors surging that we wouldn’t have thought of,” said Adult Workforce Programs Director, Andy Smith.

Like job openings in grocery stores, delivery services and even medical facilities.

“The challenge here is that not every job seeker who is displaced from their current job is going to want to work in those fields or be qualified to,” said Smith.

“And we’re really just trying to be as supportive as we possibly can,” said Stanbro.

The surge in weekly applications was a stunning reflection of the damage the viral outbreak is doing to the economy. Filings for unemployment aid generally reflect the pace of layoffs.

The pace of layoffs is sure to accelerate as the U.S. economy sinks into a recession. Revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, gyms, and airlines. Auto sales are plummeting, and car makers have close factories. Most such employers face loan payments and other fixed costs, so they’re cutting jobs to save money.

As job losses mount, some economists say the nation’s unemployment rate could approach 13% by May. By comparison, the highest jobless rate during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, was 10%.

The economic deterioration has been swift. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was at a 50-year low of 3.5%. And the economy was growing steadily if modestly. Yet by the April-June quarter of the year, some economists think the economy will shrink at its steepest annual pace ever — a contraction that could reach 30%.

Many people who have lost jobs in recent days have been unable to file for unemployment aid because state websites and phone systems have been overwhelmed by a crush of applicants and have frozen up. That logjam suggests that Thursday’s report on filings for unemployment benefits actually understates the magnitude of job cuts last week.

With layoffs surging, a significant expansion of unemployment benefits for the millions who will lose jobs as a result of the coronavirus outbreak was included in an economic relief bill nearing final approval in Congress. One provision in the bill would provide an extra $600 a week on top of the unemployment aid that states provide. Another would extend 13 additional weeks of benefits beyond the six months of jobless aid that most states offer.

Separate legislation passed last week provides up to $1 billion to states to enhance their ability to process claims. But that money will take time to be disbursed.

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