The viral pandemic’s resurgence caused the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits to rise last week for the first time in nearly four months, evidence of the deepening economic pain the outbreak is causing.
The increase in weekly jobless claims to 1.4 million served to underscore the outsize role the unemployment insurance system is playing among the nation’s safety net programs — just when a US$600 weekly federal aid payment for the jobless is set to expire at the end of this week.
Last week’s pace of unemployment applications — the 18th straight time it’s topped one million — was up from 1.3 million the previous week. Before the pandemic, applications had never exceeded 700,000. An additional 975,000 applied last week for jobless aid under a separate program that has made self-employed and gig workers eligible for the first time.
The weakening of the labour market has raised fears that the economy will shed jobs again in July, after two sharp hiring gains in May and June, and derail prospects for a recovery from the recession.
The government also said Thursday that the total number of people receiving jobless benefits fell 1.1 million to 16.2 million. That was a hopeful sign that even as layoffs remain persistently high, some companies are recalling workers. Yet that figure is still roughly 10 times what it was before the pandemic.
The painfully high number of layoffs reflects a pandemic that’s causing both confirmed infections and deaths to rise nationally. Laboratories are buckling under a surge of coronavirus tests, creating processing delays that are undercutting the pandemic response. With the US tally of confirmed infections nearing four million and deaths above 143,000, some workers are being kept off the job while awaiting test results. Analysts say the economy can’t improve until authorities can control the spread of the virus, a need that is complicating the reopening of businesses and schools.