The number of Americans applying for state unemployment benefits inched down last week to the lowest level since March but still remained significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels.
The latest jobless claims figures from the Labor Department, which cover the week ending Nov. 7, show that 709,000 workers sought aid last week, about four-times the pre-crisis level. Still, it’s well below the peak of nearly 7 million in late March, when states first implemented lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
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Jobless claims have not been this low since the week ending March 14, when 282,000 Americans filed for aid, shortly before the virus-induced crisis triggered a flood of layoffs.
More than 66 million Americans ‒ roughly 40% of the nation’s labor force ‒ have applied for aid since the coronavirus lockdowns began in mid-March.
Economists surveyed by Refinitiv expected 735,000 new claims.
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The number of people who are continuing to receive unemployment benefits fell to 6.78 million, a decline of about 436,000 from the previous week. The decline suggests that employers are calling their workers back.
Still, some of the drop in so-called continuing claims may represent workers who have used up the maximum number of payments available through state unemployment programs (typically about six months) and are now receiving benefits through a separate federal program that extends the aid by 13 weeks. Congress created the extra federal benefits earlier this year with the passage of the CARES Act.
There are still roughly 10.1 million more out-of-work Americans than there were in February, before the pandemic hit.
On Wednesday, the U.S. set a single-day record for coronavirus cases, with the total number of infections topping 136,000, raising fears of another wave of shutdowns.
“With each passing week, many businesses see an extension of diminished revenues, particularly those in the leisure, hospitality and travel spaces,” said Mark Hamrick, Bankrate.com senior economic analyst. “With more restrictions, either from governments or self-imposed by consumers, there’s no let-up in pandemic fatigue.”
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