BOSTON — More than 3.2 million people filed for unemployment benefits in the past week as the coronavirus shutdown huge swaths of the nation's economy, a historic number of jobless claims that will push many states including Massachusetts to the brink financially.
In Massachusetts, there were 147,995 unemployment claims filed for the week that ended March 21, compared to 7,449 in the previous week, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday.
New Hampshire reported 21,878 unemployment claims, up from 642 in the previous week, according to the report.
The latest unemployment numbers lay bare the economic fallout of government policies to stem the spread of the virus. By comparison, there were only 281,000 applications for jobless benefits filed in the country in the previous week, between March 8 and 14, according to the Labor Department.
"This marks the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial claims in the history of the seasonally adjusted series," the Labor Department said.
Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency on March 10 and has taken other preventative steps that have shuttered many businesses across the state. He said the actions are crucial to stopping the spread of the deadly virus and preventing the state's health care system from becoming overwhelmed with infected patients.
Baker said this week there is enough money in the state's unemployment trust fund "for the time being," but he said his administration is crunching numbers to ensure that it remains solvent.
Massachusetts is one of the most generous states when it comes to unemployment benefits, experts say, but the trust fund hasn't been fully solvent since 2000.
As of Jan. 31, Massachusetts had about $1.74 billion in the fund, according to federal data.
President Donald Trump signed legislation last week allowing states to get zero-interest loans from the federal government to keep unemployment trust funds solvent.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a $2 trillion emergency package late Wednesday that is intended to stave off economic collapse in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The measure, described as the largest economic bailout package in U.S. history, includes direct checks to many Americans, a massive fund for beleaguered industries, financial aid for hospitals and cash for state and local governments to deal with the virus response.
The measure includes an unemployment provision with four months of bolstered benefits, including increasing the maximum unemployment benefit by $600 for four months.
Several GOP senators argued that the generous unemployment agreement could prompt individuals who earn less while working compared to the unemployment benefits to quit their jobs or not return to work. The Senate narrowly rejected an amendment that would have capped unemployment benefits at 100% of an individual's salary.
The bill is likely to add to the unemployment claims as it would allow part-time, self-employed and gig economy workers to access benefits. The measure now goes to the House where passage is expected Friday. Trump has vowed to sign the bill as soon as it reaches his desk.
This story will be updated on gloucestertimes.com and in tomorrow's print edition.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com