More than 20 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits over the last four weeks, according to Department of Labor filings.
Another 5.2 million Americans lost their jobs last week as businesses remain shut amid the coronavirus lockdown.
The economic crisis comes as the number of US virus cases exceeds 629,000.
The surging joblessness is a stark reversal for the world’s biggest economy where the unemployment rate had been hovering around 3.5%. Economists now expect that rate to have hit double digits.
While the 5.2 million new claims in the week ended April 11 were down from 6.6 million the previous week, the numbers still eclipse prior records.
Many economists warn that elevated numbers will linger, with Goldman Sachs researchers expecting some 37 million claims by the end of May.
Electronics chain Best Buy this week said it would furlough more than 50,000 employees, while Royal Caribbean Cruises announced it would cut or suspend about a quarter of its American workforce.
The moves come as retail sales plunged by a record 8.7%, while manufacturing output dropped by the most in more than 74 years.
The US has expanded its unemployment program, making disbursements bigger and more people – including the self-employed – eligible. Requests to participate have overwhelmed state offices, which process the applications.
On April 16, the Small Business Administration, which is in charge of administering that $349 billion program, announced it had run out of money.
President Donald Trump is expected to issue “new guidelines” for reopening the economy in parts of the country where experts believe the rate of infection is under control.
On April 15, the president said: “There has to be a balance. We have to get back to work.”