New state data show more than 27,000 Missourians filed new claims for unemployment last week as the economy continued to struggle along what will likely be a lengthy road to recovery.


The new figures were a slight improvement over the 30,702 claims the state says it received the week before and a far cry from the numbers in late March and early April, when weekly claims twice rose above 100,000.


But the 27,882 claims last week remained several times higher than they were before the novel coronavirus hit, and added to a depressing nine-week sum of 564,000 claims, or three times the number the state received in all of 2019.


It's not entirely clear how many of those claims have been accepted, but it's been enough to swell the rolls to record highs.


The latest data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show 259,270 people were enrolled in regular unemployment during the week ending May 9, more than ten times the number enrolled in mid-March and more than twice the highest number seen during the Great Recession.


And that doesn't count those enrolled in a temporary program Congress created for the self-employed and others who can't usually file, who numbered 109,910 during the week ending May 2.


In recent weeks, top officials have been candid about the difficult road ahead.


“I think we have to be realistic about the long road that’s ahead here,” Rob Dixon, the state's economic development chief, told a gathering of the St. Louis Regional Chamber last week, according to the Post-Dispatch. “It’s going to take years, frankly, to recover fully from the effects of this thing.”


Gov. Mike Parson said this week he's hopeful the economy will begin to turn around by the third quarter of this year.


Statistics set to come out in the next few weeks could hint at how realistic Parson's hopes are.


Monday marked re-opening dates for the state's main economic drivers in St. Louis, St. Louis County and Kansas City, and claims data for the first week of that effort will be out next Thursday.


The question will be how many people return to work and how many have jobs to return to.


Furloughed or laid-off workers who can return to work will likely lose benefits if they are called back.


The state labor department has said that "general fear" of the virus will not suffice as a reason to refuse work, and employers have been given an online portal to report workers who don't answer the call.


Nationally, roughly 2.4 million people filed new claims last week, adding to a nine-week sum of 38.6 million overall.


Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at ahuguelet@news-leader.com.