May 14 (UPI) -- About 3 million more Americans have filed new unemployment claims, the Labor Department said in its weekly report Thursday.
The increase pushes the eight-week total to more than 36 million. The report said the new weekly figure of 2.98 million is a decrease of 195,000 from the previous week, which the department revised up by 7,000 claims.
Economists had expected an increase of 2.7 million new claims. The peak was 6.9 million new claims in late March.
The unemployment rate rose to 14.7 percent in April, the highest since World War II. Thursday's report said the rate increased to 15.7 percent by May 2. If adjusted to include furloughed workers who have not made insurance claims, the figure is nearly 20 percent.
Some experts say the slowing pace of losses, however, suggests the United States is past the worst period of job losses. With Thursday's report, the four-week average declined by more than a half-million claims.
"However, the damage that has been done is unprecedented. Our estimates imply that, at the end of April, roughly 1 in 4 people who were working in February are no longer working," said Adam Blandin of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business.
A survey conducted by Blandin and Alexander Bick, an economist at Arizona State University, found that for the week ending May 2, the employment rate was more than 51 percent among working-age adults.
"While employment fell in the most recent wave, the decline has slowed noticeably," they wrote.
Most of those losing jobs recently, however, believe they can return if the economy reopens quickly.
Goldman Sachs economist Jan Hatzius warned Wednesday that U.S. economic growth may fall at a 39 percent annualized rate in the second quarter, followed by a rebound of 29 percent growth in the third. Goldman revised its peak unemployment upwards from 15 percent to 25 percent.