US Unemployment Benefit Claims Edge Lower but Still Historically High

WASHINGTON – Another 787,000 U.S. workers filed for unemployment compensation last week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday, as the coronavirus crisis continues to stress the American labor market nine months after the pandemic swept into the country.

The latest weekly total was 19,000 fewer than the revised seasonally adjusted figure from the week before but consistent with the number of claims over recent months.

The recent weekly figures are well below the 6.9 million record number of claims filed in late March as the pandemic took hold in the U.S. but remain above the highest pre-pandemic level in records going back to the 1960s.

Nearly 10 million of the 22 million workers who lost jobs remain unemployed in the U.S. The jobless rate was 6.7% in November and many economists say the figure could remain elevated for months. Hiring in November slowed for a fifth straight month, with employers adding the fewest jobs since April.

U.S. employers have called back millions of workers who were laid off during business shutdowns earlier this year, yet some hard-hit businesses have been slow to ramp up their operations again or have closed permanently, leaving workers idled or searching for new employment as coronavirus cases are surging by tens of thousands a day.

Some state and municipal officials have imposed new restrictions on businesses, forcing owners to once again lay off workers.

However, unemployed workers in the U.S. are in line soon to get some financial relief.

President Donald Trump last Sunday signed into law a $900 billion coronavirus relief deal that includes $300-a-week federal unemployment benefits for the next 11 weeks on top of less generous state jobless benefits.

President-elect Joe Biden, who is set to be inaugurated January 20, has called the aid package “a down payment” and says he will propose more spending when he takes office.

But it took months for lawmakers and the White House to agree on how much money to spend in the relief deal Trump approved and to decide who would get it, an indication that even more assistance Biden wants would be difficult to negotiate.

The aid pact Trump signed includes $600 payments to more than 80% of adult Americans, excluding the biggest wage earners. Trump has called for increasing the amount to $2,000. While the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives quickly approved the Republican president’s request, Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, balked at more spending and the possibility of the extra stipend appears doomed.

While the U.S. economy, the world’s largest, has regained strength since the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic, growth has slowed in the last three months of 2020. The U.S. has now recorded 342,000 coronavirus deaths and 19.7 million infections, both figures more than in any other country, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Economists, meanwhile, expect the U.S. economy’s recovery to gain momentum in the second half of 2021, after passage of the latest stimulus package and as millions of people are eventually inoculated against the disease.

More than 2 million Americans have been vaccinated so far, but the figure is far short of the 20 million that the Trump administration predicted would get the shots by the end of December.


Source: Voice of America