Jobless claims expected to spike to record-breaking number in millions

(CNBC) — About 1 million to 4 million people may have filed for unemployment benefits last week, the largest number ever in such a short time.

The filings figure, which will be released Thursday before U.S. markets open, will be the first indication of how hard the labor force is being hit by the abrupt shutdown of a large part of the U.S. economy by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg, and they’re going to be ugly. It depends on the speed at which the claims were filed, and the next week will probably be worse,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. Swonk expects 1 million to 2 million claims were filed in the week that ended Saturday, a sharp jump from the slightly elevated 281,000 filed the previous week.

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