The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 787,000, a sign that job losses may have eased slightly but are still running at historically high levels – thanks in large part to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
With confirmed COVID-19 infections having neared 60,000 in the past week, the highest level since July, many consumers have been unable or reluctant to shop, travel, dine out or congregate in crowds — a trend that has led some employers to keep cutting jobs. Several states, such as Ohio and Idaho, are reporting a record number of hospitalizations from the virus.
Thursday’s report from the Labor Department said the number of people who are continuing to receive unemployment benefits tumbled by 1 million to 8.4 million. The decline shows that some of the unemployed are being recalled to their old jobs or are finding new ones. But it also indicates that many jobless Americans have used up their state unemployment aid — which typically expires after six months — and have transitioned to a federal extended benefits program that lasts an additional three months.
Many jobless recipients are now receiving only regular state unemployment payments because a federal weekly supplement of $300 has ended in nearly all states. And a $600-a-week federal benefit expired over the summer.
The still-elevated number of jobless claims underscores that a full recovery from the pandemic recession remains far off. Job growth has slowed for three straight months, leaving the economy still 10.7 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level. The unemployment rate remains high at 7.9%.
And major companies keep announcing layoffs. Aramark, a food services contractor that provides concessions at sports stadiums, said Wednesday that it would lay off 975 workers in Denver, most of whom worked at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. The company is also cutting 550 jobs in Kansas City. Most major league baseball games this season were played with limited or no crowds, thereby reducing the need for concession workers
Amtrak said at a congressional hearing Wednesday that it would have to cut 2,400 jobs unless Congress approves emergency aid as part of another stimulus bill.
Yet negotiations in Congress over another round of financial aid have largely stalled, with little prospect for a deal before Election Day. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are continuing to negotiate. But Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has warned the White House against agreeing to a large package that would be opposed by most Senate Republicans.