The number of American workers filing claims for jobless benefits remains stubbornly high, 21 weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic began a wave of layoffs.
Official numbers from the U.S. Department of Labour released Thursday show that 1,106,000 new people filed initial claims for jobless benefits in the week that ended Aug. 15, an increase of 135,000 from the previous week's level.
A federal program that paid out $600 a week implemented at the start of the pandemic expired in July, and its replacement has yet to be fully implemented, so many claimants are now receiving far less, from state programs.
The previous week's level marked the first time since the pandemic began that the initial claims figure dipped below a million people, but the data for the week up to last Friday suggests the tide of layoffs has not in fact turned, almost six months after COVID-19 started to wallop the U.S. economy.
New claims peaked at more than 6.8 million in late March.
"Two steps forward, one step back," Bank of Montreal economist Jennifer Lee said of the numbers. "These are phrases used to describe how UI claims are slowly, and at times unsteadily, climbing down from the spring peaks."
Before the pandemic, the previous record high for initial jobless claims was 650,000 at one point in the financial crisis of 2009. The numbers have been higher than that previous high-water mark for 21 weeks in a row now.
This week last year, 215,000 Americans filed new claims.
"After flatlining and briefly reversing course a few weeks ago, the notable increase in new jobless claims last week is discouraging for the labour market recovery," economist Mathew Eidinger with Cambridge Market Solutions said. "Although weekly claims are now only one sixth of what they were during the peak in late March, they remain nearly double the pre-coronavirus weekly record."
All in all, 28,059,349 Americans were receiving state or federal benefits during the week, a decrease of 197,601 from the previous week.
Official employment numbers suggest the U.S. economy has regained 9.3 million of the 22 million jobs lost between February and April.