Weekly US Jobless Benefit Claims Dip Below 1 Million
August 13, 2020
Another 963,000 unemployed U.S. workers filed for government jobless
compensation last week, the government’s Labor Department reported
Thursday, but it was the first time since March that the weekly total
had fallen below a million claims.
For 20 straight weeks, more than a million jobless workers had sought
government assistance as the virus unrelentingly attacks communities
large and small throughout the country, forcing employers to shut down
their businesses or curtail their operations and lay off workers.
But last week’s claims total, while still high, was an improvement, down
228,000 from the week before.
Unemployment benefit claims have fallen sharply since late March in the
earliest days of the pandemic’s assault on the U.S. economy when 6.9
million Americans sought relief in a single week. But before then, the
worst recorded single week was in 1982, when 695,000 sought benefits,
and every week during the coronavirus pandemic has been well above that
Even with last week’s improved jobless claims number, the country’s
economic recovery has slowed, with the government reporting last week
that 1.8 million new jobs were added in July, down sharply from the 4.8
million new jobs reported in June.
Until the end of July, the U.S. was sending an extra $600 a week to the
jobless workers on top of less generous state unemployment benefits. But
the White House and opposition Democrats in Congress have been unable to
reach a new agreement on extending the coronavirus aid to jobless
workers or families, businesses and state and local governments
throughout the country.
President Donald Trump last weekend signed an executive order he said
would send an extra $400 a week to jobless workers, if states
contributed $100 of that amount, and temporarily end the 7.65% payroll
tax for working Americans earning less than $100,000 a year. But details
of the assistance have been slow to emerge and the additional aid could
take weeks to be implemented.
Democratic lawmakers want to extend the $600-a-week payments through the
end of 2020, but Republicans say the figure is too high, with some
unemployed workers collecting more in jobless benefits than they were
paid while working. The higher figure, the Republicans say, is an
incentive to stay home and not return to work, although some employers
have eliminated jobs their workers once held.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark
Meadows representing Trump had been negotiating with House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer over the jobless
benefits and other aid to boost the flagging U.S. economy that has been
staggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
But the talks ended last week and an attempt to resume them Wednesday
proved futile. Trump said a deal is “not going to happen.”
The Commerce Department says the American economy plummeted 9.5% between
April and June, the biggest quarterly plunge in records dating back
The three-month drop, combined with a 4.8% dip from January through
March, officially dipped the U.S. economy into a recession as it
struggles to regain its footing. The unchecked pandemic, with a surging
number of new cases, has left more than 166,000 Americans dead and
infected nearly 5.2 million.
It is estimated that more than 30 million U.S. workers remain
unemployed, although not all are collecting assistance. Since March, 56
million people have collected unemployment insurance at one time or
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell says a full economic recovery
depends on the country’s ability to control the virus, something it has
been unable to do so far.
“A full recovery is unlikely until people are confident that it’s safe
to engage in a broad range of economic activities,” Powell said
southern tier of U.S. states that had escaped the brunt of the pandemic
in March and April has been particularly hard hit. Their governors
reopened businesses — too soon, some now acknowledge — and younger
people started socializing in public again at bars and restaurants
without embracing such preventive practices as wearing a face mask or
social distancing themselves from others by at least two meters.
Now, some state governors are ordering these businesses shut down again.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs said 70% of the country has either
reversed reopening plans or delayed them.
Key U.S. economic officials are predicting the country’s full recovery
from the pandemic will take a lengthy period, extending well into 2021.
The Federal Reserve, the country’s central bank, has predicted that the
U.S. unemployment rate, 11.1% in June, will improve to 9.3% by the end
of 2020 and to 6.5% by the end of next year.