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US jobless claims data points to continued employment struggles

More than 11 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the United States is seeing high numbers of new unemployment benefit filings each week - Olivier DOULIERY / ©AFP
More than 11 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the United States is seeing high numbers of new unemployment benefit filings each week - Olivier DOULIERY / ©AFP

(AFP)

New applications for US unemployment benefits saw little improvement last week, according to official data Thursday, ticking up slightly and remaining at worrying levels more than 11 months into the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Labor Department said there were 745,000 new jobless claims filings in the week ended February 27, seasonally adjusted, worse than analysts had forecast and 9,000 more than the prior week’s upwardly-revised total.

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An additional 436,696 people, not seasonally adjusted, filed claims under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program aiding freelance workers, bringing total new applications to nearly 1.2 million.

“An ongoing high level of layoffs and a large deficit in payrolls indicate conditions in the labor market remain weak,” said Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics. 

“Stronger momentum in growth as the economy continues to reopen will bring back a large number of jobs, although a complete recovery is likely to be a prolonged process,” she said in an analysis of the data.

Business restrictions to stop Covid-19 from spreading caused mass layoffs in the United States beginning last March, and even as virus cases have ebbed and flowed, weekly jobless claims have yet to drop below the worst single week of the 2008-2010 global financial crisis.

President Joe Biden is pushing Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that will include more funding for PUA and other pandemic unemployment programs, which are set to expire the week of March 14.

The House of Representatives passed that bill last week, and the Senate is expected to debate it in the coming days.

All told, more than 18 million people were receiving government unemployment benefits under all programs as of the week ended February 13, the Labor Department said.

And progress in the labor market has been slow. The latest week’s data brings the four-week moving average of regular claims to 790,750, a decrease of 16,750 from the week prior. 

The insured unemployment rate indicating people actually receiving benefits ticked down slightly to 3.0 percent, with 4,295,000 people receiving aid, the report said.

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