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Nearly 900,000 Americans File for Unemployment Benefits

A pedestrian walks past a Zara store with a large "Now Hiring," sign in the window, Oct. 12, 2020, along the famed Lincoln Road area in Miami Beach, Florida.
A pedestrian walks past a Zara store with a large "Now Hiring," sign in the window, Oct. 12, 2020, along the famed Lincoln Road area in Miami Beach, Florida.

Nearly 900,000 U.S. workers filed for unemployment compensation last week, the highest weekly figure in nearly two months, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the American labor market.

More than 10 million workers remain unemployed in the United States, with the jobless rate at 6.8% and economists saying the figure could remain elevated for months. Only slightly more than half of the 22 million U.S. jobs lost in the coronavirus pandemic have been recovered.

Since August, the weekly initial claims for jobless benefits have stabilized below 900,000, but last week’s 898,000 figure was up 53,000 from the revised figure of the week before.

The recent weekly claims figures are well below the 6.9 million record number of claims filed in late March as the coronavirus swept into the United States but remain above the highest pre-pandemic level in records going back to the 1960s.

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.

In addition, such major corporations as AT&T, Warner Media, Walt Disney, and Allstate, along with several airlines, have announced major layoffs in recent weeks as the U.S. economy, the world’s largest, struggles to regain its footing.

President Donald Trump and Democratic lawmakers have been unable to reach an agreement during weeks of negotiations over a new coronavirus relief package, although talks are continuing.

Extra $600-a-week national government payments to unemployed workers on top of less generous state jobless benefits expired at the end of July. Academic studies show that, as a result, millions of people have fallen back into poverty, although the exact number is uncertain.

With less than three weeks until the official Election Day, with millions of people already casting early ballots, the prospect for a new aid deal before Nov. 3, including unemployment assistance, appears limited.

“I suspect that they don’t want to give the president a win three weeks before the election,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said of Democrats in a Wednesday interview on Fox Business.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leading negotiations for Democrats, told MSNBC late Wednesday that while a deal was still possible, the two sides remained far apart on worker safety, school funding, and a strategic testing plan, among other issues.

The White House last weekend offered a $1.88 trillion relief package, bringing it closer to the $2.2 trillion deal Pelosi wants. But the details of a deal remain elusive.

A compromise plan, even at the lower end of the spending range, would still face an uncertain fate in the majority-Republican Senate, with several Republican lawmakers expressing opposition to a package of that size or any new assistance at all.

Trump has contended that the U.S. economy is in the midst of a V-shaped recovery, but the country is still down 10.7 million jobs from February, a bigger loss than the 8.7 million seen during the 2008-2009 recession.

There has also been a surge in new U.S. coronavirus cases to more than 50,000 a day, seemingly headed to another national peak in infections. The U.S. has recorded more than 216,000 deaths and 7.9 million cases since the pandemic started in March, with both figures more than in any other country, according to Johns Hopkins University.