The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 837,000 workers filed for unemployment compensation last week, an improvement from the week before but still a sign the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the American labor market.
Millions of workers remain unemployed in the United States, with the jobless rate at 8.1% in mid-September, and economists saying the figure could remain elevated for months. Only about half of the 22 million U.S. jobs lost in the coronavirus pandemic have been recovered.
Weekly initial claims for jobless benefits seemed to have stabilized below 900,000 in recent weeks, but they are fluctuating from week to week. Last week’s 837,000 figure was down 36,000 from the revised level 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 before this year in records going back to the 1960s.
U.S. employers have called back millions of workers who were laid off during mandatory 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.
Two air carriers, American Airlines and United Airlines, have announced that 32,000 will be furloughed unless the U.S. government agrees to more financial support.
During the worst of the pandemic, the U.S. unemployment rate topped out at 14.7% in April.
With less than five weeks to go before the November 3 presidential and congressional elections, President Donald Trump and Republican and Democratic lawmakers in politically fractious Washington have been unable to reach an agreement on extending federal unemployment benefits and how much should be paid.
COVID relief package
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been negotiating this week over a coronavirus relief package, but it is uncertain whether they will reach an accord before Congress adjourns so lawmakers can return to their home states to campaign for re-election.
Until the end of July, the national government sent an extra $600 a week to unemployed workers on top of less generous state jobless benefits. The Republican-controlled Senate in September tried to win approval of $300-a-week payments through the end of the year, but Democrats blocked the proposal as too small and continued to call for resumption of the $600 weekly payments.
The rejected Republican coronavirus relief package would have cost between $500 billion and $700 billion, on top of the $3 trillion approved months ago at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. Now, Pelosi wants another $2.2 trillion, while the White House has upped its proposal to $1.5 trillion.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said any package that "starts with a two" would cause a "real problem" for Republicans.
As the first round of unemployment payments expired in July, Trump signed an executive order calling for $400 a week in extra payments for a few weeks. But not all states delivered the reduced payments to jobless workers, and now that money is running out.
While the U.S. has been adding more jobs in recent months, the pace of the recovery has seemed to slow. The 1.4 million jobs added in August included the Census Bureau’s temporary hiring of about 240,000 workers to help conduct the once-a-decade count of the U.S. population.