More than 7,000 newly discharged service members headed straight to unemployment lines last week amid a historic downturn in the jobs market caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
The benefits claims for newly discharged vets came to 7,068 for the week ending April 18, the Labor Department said in its latest stunning report, which showed that another 4,427,000 Americans are out of work.
More than 6,300 new veterans who recently separated or retired filed for unemployment in the week ending April 11, and more than 5,400 in the week before that, for a total of more than 18,600 over the last three weeks, according to the Labor Department's weekly reports.
The 4.4 million total who filed claims in the week ending April 18 was down from the record 6.6 million who filed in the week before. But in the last five weeks, the unemployment total reached 26.4 million -- a staggering figure that has no precedent, the Labor Department said.
In response to the cratering of the economy, the Navy and Army last month began offering extensions to service members, partly to give them the opportunity to delay entry into a job market in free fall.
"The Navy is accepting applications from officers and enlisted personnel who desire to delay their separation or retirement" for six to 12 months in an effort "to mitigate the effects of COVID-19," the Navy said in a March 20 administrative notice signed by Vice Adm. John Nowell, the chief of personnel.
As of April 17, the Navy had received 530 extension requests, a personnel spokesman said.
The Army is offering extensions of three to 12 months. Soldiers are "being offered the option to extend if they want to do that, or to reenlist or withdraw. Again, it's on a voluntary basis," Maj. Gen. Joseph Calloway, head of Army Human Resources Command, said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
Marines with upcoming retirement or separation dates can request extensions with the length to be determined by unit commanders, according to Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
In a Facebook live session on April 6, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein also said that airmen set to retire soon would be allowed to push back their retirement dates until the pandemic subsides.
In a statement accompanying the weekly unemployment claims report, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia attributed the economy's downturn to the coronavirus crisis.
He pledged oversight by the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) "to protect workers and ensure safe workplaces" as states begin to relax restrictions.
Based on the record numbers of unemployment claims in recent weeks, economists and investment banks have been predicting an unemployment rate well into the double digits when the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the rates for April in the first week of May.
In the last BLS report for March, before the claims began to mount at record rates, the unemployment rate for all veterans rose to 4.1%, less than the national rate of 4.4% for March.
The unemployment rate for "Gulf War II-era," or post-9/11 veterans, was also 4.1% in March, BLS said. The 4.1% rate for all veterans in March represented a 0.5% increase from the 3.6% rate in February, it added.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.