Since 1941, the nation's unemployment rate has never stood as high as the April figure of 9.4 percent.
Few observers expected the rate to jump 0.4 percent in a single month, bringing the total number of jobless Americans to over 10 million. And further increases are likely in the months ahead as industry follows through on announced job cutbacks.
For the present, the cost of unemployment benefits is taking its toll on government coffers.
State unemployment reserves are being drained off steadily. In the first quarter of 1982, 10 states with heavy unemployment had to borrow more than $1.9 billion from the US Treasury to continue to meet weekly payments to the jobless. The money, which comes out of the 1982 federal budget, must be repaid.
Moreover, more than 628,000 idle workers in 31 states stand to lose their eligibility for unemployment compensation in the next few weeks unless Congress acts quickly to extend benefits. At present, benefits cover 26 weeks of regular payments and 13 weeks of extra payments.
Polls indicate that unemployment is the biggest public worry now, topping inflation. With the jobless figures continuing to rise, and major corporations still announcing labor force cutbacks, this public concern is likely to become a serious problem for political supporters of the Reagan administration. Unemployment could be a key issue in congressional elections this fall.
The AFL-CIO noted that the news was, again, ''very bad for American workers -- 2.5 million have now lost their jobs since the recession began in July 1981, and the end is not yet in sight.''
The April unemployment rate of 9.4 percent was up from 9 percent in the previous month. The government reported an estimated 10.3 million workers idle but actively seeking work. The number of ''discouraged'' workers -- those who are jobless but no longer looking for work that they think cannot be found -- rose to 1.3 million. More than 5.7 million were working part time but wanted full-time jobs.
Total employment of 99,340,000 was 152,000 under the March figure.
Although unemployment among white male workers rose again, the impact among blacks continued critical. The jobless rate for all blacks was 18.4 percent, almost double the national labor force figure. Black youths were reported 48.1 percent idle.
As AFL-CIO counts, ''More than 17 million Americans are now suffering from the Reagan recession.'' The union also reports that regular unemployment benefits were cut by $1.6 billion and Trade Adjustment Assistance, payments to workers idled because of imports, have been cut back sharply.
The Labor Department blames the rise in the jobless rate largely on layoffs of blue-collar workers, about 200,000 of them mostly in the construction and manufacturing industries. In all, the number of jobless rose almost 500,000 in the month.
The White House expressed ''disappointment'' with the latest rise in the jobless figure but said the 9.4 percent rate would not alter the administration's determination to push on with its economic policies.
Lane Kirkland, president of AFL-CIO, called the 9.4 percent rate ''another cruel turn on the ratchet of the 'New Hooverism' '' -- a phrase the union is beginning to use to describe the Reagan economic program.