The Labor Department offered its first look at the economic damage done from the need to impose shelter-in-place policies this month, and … it’s bad. Well over three million Americans filed unemployment claims last week, a massive and unprecedented spike in joblessness. It’s the first solid data that shows just how badly the coronavirus pandemic has hurt US businesses, and the numbers will likely be worse next week:

More than 3 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, according to new data released Thursday.

The massive spike in new jobless claims comes as nationwide lockdowns to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have kept Americans from their workplaces, grinding businesses to a halt and forcing many companies to shutter or to lay off staff.

These numbers are just “the tip of the iceberg,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, noting that these figures do not even include data from this week.

That is the seasonally adjusted figure; the actual number was 2.98 million. To put the normal seasonally-adjusted number in perspective, 3.28 million Americans amount to one percent of our entire population. That’s how many people lost work in just one week. Or perhaps to put it in better perspective, it’s almost exactly two percent of our latest, pre-pandemic civilian labor force. We went from 3.5% unemployment to 5.5% in one week.

Just how unprecedented is this event? Reuters’ Andy Bruce provides this handy chart covering the last 50-plus years. Note well that this includes the 2008 financial-sector meltdown that led to the Great Recession, which barely shows up as a blip:

New York Times economist Ben Casselman explains that the actual job losses in the week likely are significantly underrepresented in this data, via Allahpundit:

About the only hope we have for next week’s numbers is that employers might have rapidly shed the jobs that were at risk in a shutdown. That’s not going to be the case entirely, of course, but it’s at least going to be some of the dynamic.

The rest of the jobs remain at risk, at least until we reopen for business or Congress acts to provide resources and incentives to keep people employed. That matters because, as CNN’s Julia Chatterley points out below, we did this deliberately. We stopped a lot of our economic activity to slow the spread of the coronavirus until we could get health-care resources in place to deal with the explosion of hospitalizations we expect to see, and to drag that out over a longer and more manageable period of time. We knew that would be a costly move; now we’re starting to get the metrics on just how costly it will be.

This also makes clear why Donald Trump wants to get the economy started again. If the new relief bill can’t arrest this trend, we will end up in a nightmare scenario of double-digit unemployment in a matter of a few weeks, if not days, with all of the social ills and unrest that could create. That argument is no longer academic, although we might not be able to avoid it. We’d better hope Congress remains focused on aid that actually addresses this issue alone, and not use the crisis to focus on their ideological wish lists. The country cannot afford it. Literally.