The number of laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits in the United States remained stuck at 1.3 million last week, an historically high level that indicates many companies are still cutting jobs as the viral outbreak intensifies.
The elevated level of applications for jobless aid is occurring as new confirmed cases of coronavirus are spiking across much of the Sunbelt, threatening to weaken the economic recovery. Case counts are rising in 40 states and 22 states have either paused or reversed their efforts to reopen their economies, according to Bank of America.
Rising infections paralleled rising applications for aid in some states getting hit right now, and fell in states with declining infections. In Florida claims doubled to 129,000, and in Georgia they rose nearly one-third to 136,000, according to the Labor Department’s Thursday report. In California they increased 23,000 to nearly 288,000. Applications also rose in Arizona and South Carolina.
Applications fell in Texas, which has seen infections spike, and in New Jersey and New York, where the virus is mostly under control.
While applications for jobless aid fell by about 10,000 from the previous week, the figure has now topped one million for 17 straight weeks. The record high for weekly unemployment applications before the pandemic, was nearly 700,000.
Those figures are adjusted for seasonal variations, a practice intended to filter out trends that don’t reflect on the economy, such as the firing of seasonal workers after the winter holidays. Yet the impact of the coronavirus has made such adjustments less relevant, economists say, because claims are so far above normal levels.
Before seasonal adjustment, applications actually rose 100,000 to 1.5 million, a sign that layoffs are worsening.
The total number of people who are receiving jobless benefits dropped 400,000 to 17.3 million, the government said. That suggests that some companies are continuing to rehire workers, which could offset some of the job losses reflected in the still-high level of claims.
An additional 928,000 people sought benefits last week under a separate program for self-employed and gig workers that has made them eligible for aid for the first time. These figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations, so the government doesn’t include them in the official count.