April 2 (UPI) -- The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits has soared by a record 6.6 million people, the Labor Department said Thursday.
That figure represents the largest single-week filing increase in history. Analysts had projected 3 million to 6 million new filings for the week ending March 28. Thursday's figure more than doubles last week's report of 3 million new filings.
"The COVID-19 virus continues to impact the number of initial claims," the department said. "Nearly every state providing comments cited the COVID-19 virus. States continued to identify increases related to the services industries broadly, again led by accommodation and food services."
Department figures show Pennsylvania had the largest claims increase, with more than 362,000. Ohio was second, followed by Massachusetts, Texas and California.
The national four-week moving average increased by 1.6 million to 2.6 million, the department noted.
"These are numbers that are way out of the range that we have seen," Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America, said. "During the financial crisis, we were seeing a peak of about 650,000 [first-time applications] a week."
The Labor Department will release its March jobs report on Friday. A private estimate by ADP and Moody's this week said the U.S. economy lost 27,000 jobs by the middle of March.
During a briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Americans can expect their one-time coronavirus stimulus checks to be deposited in their bank accounts within two weeks while those without direct deposits will receive checks in a matter of "weeks and not months."
Mnuchin added that the Internal Revenue Service was working to establish a portal for those who do not have direct deposit information on file to provide their banking information to receive the funds more quickly.
"We don't want to send checks. In this environment, we don't want people to get checks. We want to put money directly into their accounts," he said.
Friday will also mark the beginning of the Paycheck Protection Program as Mnuchin said the government's goal is to provide as much liquidity as possible to the U.S. economy to keep workers employed and cover daily operating expenses to allow businesses to reopen as soon as possible.
Mnuchin directed businesses to websites Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department to begin filing for the loans as early as Friday, but said the loans may not be delivered immediately.
"That doesn't mean that everybody is going to get their loan tomorrow, but the system will be up and running," he said.