Claims for jobless benefits held steady in the U.S. last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as the world’s biggest economy continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
A total of 373,000 unemployed workers sought government compensation, up 2,000 from the revised figure of the week before, the agency said. It was the second lowest total since mid-March 2020, when the figure was 256,000.
The weekly claims total has tracked unevenly in recent weeks, topping more than 400,000 for two straight weeks until lower totals the last two weeks. But overall, jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs of workers, have fallen by more than 40% since early April, while remaining well above the pre-pandemic levels.
About 9.3 million people remain unemployed in the U.S. and looking for work. There also are 9.2 million job openings, the government says, although the skill sets of the jobless do not necessarily match the needs of employers.
The U.S. added 850,000 jobs in June, with the unemployment rate at 5.9%. Some employers are offering new hires cash bonuses to take jobs.
State governors and municipal officials across the U.S. have been ending coronavirus restrictions, in many cases allowing businesses for the first time in a year to completely reopen to customers. That could lead to more hiring of workers.
More than 58% of U.S. adults have now been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, boosting the economic recovery, although the pace of inoculations has dropped markedly from its peak several weeks ago, worrying health experts and government officials.
Officials in many states are now offering a variety of incentives to entice the unvaccinated to get inoculated, including entry into lucrative lotteries for cash and free college tuition. The U.S. did not meet President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% of adult Americans with at least one vaccination shot by the July 4 Independence Day holiday last weekend. The figure now stands shy of that at 67.2%, with Biden announcing new plans this week to try to get more people vaccinated.
With the business reopenings, many employers are reporting a shortage of workers, particularly for low-wage jobs, such as restaurant servers and retail clerks.
The federal government approved sending $300-a-week supplemental unemployment benefits to jobless workers through early September on top of less generous state-by-state payments.
But at least 25 of the 50 states, all led by Republican governors, have started ending participation in the federal payments program, contending that the stipends let workers make more money than they would by returning to work and thus are hurting the recovery by not filling available job openings.
Some economists say, however, other factors prevent people from returning to work, such as lack of childcare or fear of contracting the coronavirus.
The economic picture in the U.S. has advanced as money from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package filters through the economy. The measure has likely boosted consumer spending, as millions of Americans, all but the highest wage earners, are now receiving $1,400 stimulus checks from the government or have already been sent the extra cash.
With more money in their wallets and more people vaccinated, Americans are venturing back to some sense of normalcy, going out to restaurants and spending money on items they had not purchased for a year.
Biden is proposing an additional $4 trillion or more in government spending on infrastructure repairs, assistance for children and families and advances for clean energy. But the overall package has been met with stiff resistance from opposition Republicans, who object to the cost of the package and Biden’s plan calling for higher taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations.
The fate of the proposals in the politically divided Congress remains uncertain, but Biden reached an infrastructure deal two weeks ago with a group of 10 centrist Republican and Democratic U.S. senators to repair roads and bridges and expand broadband internet service. However, it is unclear whether there are enough votes in Congress to adopt it.