Tupelo • The number of Mississippians filing for unemployment remains historically high, but the total declined for a third consecutive week.

For the week ending May 2, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 24,810 Mississippians filed for unemployment benefits. That’s just over 5,000 fewer than the previous week and nearly 12,000 fewer than two weeks ago.

Nationwide, the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect business and industry, as nearly 3.2 million were laid off.

So far since the pandemic started seven week ago, about 33.5 million people have filed for jobless benefits – about one in five Americans.

The nation’s unemployment rate now stands at 15.5%, an increase of 3.1 percentage points from a week earlier. In February, the U.S. jobless rate had hit a record low of 3.5%.

The Labor Department’s report Thursday suggests that layoffs, while still breathtakingly high, are steadily declining after sharp spikes in late March and early April. Initial claims for unemployment aid have now fallen for five straight weeks, from a peak of nearly 6.9 million during the week that ended March 28.

Applications for jobless aid rose in just six states last week, including Maine, New Jersey and Oklahoma, and declined in the 44 others.

The report showed that 22.7 million people are now receiving unemployment aid – a rough measure of job losses since the shutdowns began. That figure lags a week behind the figures for first-time unemployment applications. And not everyone who applies for jobless aid is approved. The number of laid-off workers receiving aid is now equal to 15.5% of the workforce that’s eligible for unemployment benefits.

In Mississippi, just over 180,000 are receiving unemployment aid. The total increased by 44,000 from a week earlier.

Those figures are a rough proxy for the job losses and for the unemployment rate that will be released Friday, which will likely to be the worst since modern record-keeping began after World War II. The unemployment rate is forecast to reach 16%, the highest rate since the Great Depression, and economists estimate that 21 million jobs were lost last month. If so, it would mean that nearly all the job growth in the 11 years since the Great Recession ended has vanished in a single month.

Economists are projecting that the gross domestic product – the broadest gauge of economic growth – is contracting in the current April-June quarter by a shocking 40% annual rate. As it does, more layoffs appear to be spreading beyond front-line industries like restaurants, hotels and retail stores.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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