U.S. unemployment benefit claims declined slightly last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, but remain elevated by historical standards, as the world’s biggest economy continues to face headwinds wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
A total of 751,000 jobless workers filed new applications for unemployment compensation, down 7,000 from the revised figure of the week before. It was the third straight week the number fell below 800,000 but remained above the highest pre-pandemic figure in records that date back to the 1960s.
A total of 7.3 million workers remain unemployed, a 5% jobless rate, the Labor Department said. The figure is a marked improvement from the pandemic low point — a 14.7% jobless rate in April.
A week ago, the country’s Commerce Department reported that the U.S. economy surged 7.4% from July to September.
But U.S. economic growth is expected to slow in the last three months of the year. Some businesses are facing closing restrictions again as they did earlier in the year, as the number of new coronavirus cases surges to a record of more than 100,000 a day.
Government officials have been reluctant to curtail business activity as occurred in the March-to-June period during an earlier period of rising infections. But some consumers have shunned in-store shopping or eating out in restaurants, and many entertainment events have been canceled for months, leading to continued layoffs.
Even before Tuesday’s presidential and congressional elections, President Donald Trump and fractious Republican and Democratic lawmakers were unable to reach a new deal for about $2 trillion in new coronavirus relief aid, including federal boosts to less generous state unemployment compensation.
Congress is set to meet again next week for a post-election lame-duck session. Trump is locked in a tight reelection contest against former Vice President Joe Biden, which remains undecided, as are some congressional elections.
As a result, new assistance for the national economy remains uncertain, although Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who won reelection, said he hopes Congress will approve more aid by the end of 2020.
The third quarter economic advance partially offset the 9% plunge in the April-to-June period when much of the country’s economic life was shut down as the coronavirus swept into the country from China and Europe.
Just ahead of the election, Trump tweeted that the 7.4% gain was the “Biggest and Best in the History of our Country, and not even close. Next year will be FANTASTIC!!!”
Biden, however, said in a statement, “Yes, GDP rose last quarter, but visits to food banks haven’t slowed, and poverty has grown. African Americans and Latinos still face double-digit unemployment rates.”
Biden, who is edging close to winning a majority in the Electoral College to claim the presidency, concluded, “The recovery is slowing if not stalling; and the recovery that is happening is helping those at the top but leaving tens of millions of working families and small businesses behind."