The jobs are disappearing in the US... another 4 million filed claims last week, taking the total to 26.5 million in five weeks. Image Credit: Bloomberg

New York: More than 4 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the five-week total to 26.5 million in the steepest downturn for the US labor market since the Great Depression.

Initial jobless claims of 4.43 million in the week ended April 18 followed a slightly downwardly revised 5.24 million in the prior week, according to Labor Department figures. The median estimate of economists was for 4.5 million claims.

Assuming all who filed for benefits are counted as unemployed, the latest figures suggest an April unemployment rate of potentially around 20 per cent, given that Thursday's data reflect the reference week for the monthly jobs report. That's double the 10 per cent peak reached in the wake of the last recession in 2009.

Most US states continued to see initial claims decline from prior weeks on an unadjusted basis - a sign that layoffs could be slowing a bit. Even so, it's unclear if the claims figures reflect Americans still losing their jobs by the millions each week, or if people are getting through on jammed websites and phone lines to apply for benefits after weeks of attempts.

Continuing claims, or the total number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits, rose by 4.1 million to an all-time high of 16 million in the week ended April 11. That pushed the insured unemployment rate to 11 per cent - the highest on record.