US unemployment claims jump to 965,000 as virus takes toll

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The number of people seeking unemployment assistance soared last week to 965,000, the highest number since late August and proof that the resurgence of the virus has spiked layoffs.

The latest unemployment claims figures, released by the Labor Ministry on Thursday, remain at unprecedented levels until the virus hits. Before the pandemic, weekly claims were typically around 225,000. As of last spring, after nationwide shutdowns took effect, claims for unemployment benefits reached nearly 7 million, or 10 million. times the previous record. After declining over the summer, weekly claims have remained above 700,000 since September.

The high pace of layoffs coincides with an economy that has weakened as consumers have avoided traveling, shopping and eating in the face of soaring viral cases. More than 4,300 deaths were reported on Tuesday, another record. Closures of restaurants, bars and other places where people congregate in California, New York and other states have likely resulted in layoffs.

Some states and cities are resisting the closures, in part for fear of economic consequences, but increasing the risk of new infections. Minnesota authorized resumption of in-person meals this week. Michigan is on the verge of doing the same. Some Kansas City bars and restaurants are extending their hours.

In addition to the first claims for unemployment assistance last week, the government said Thursday that 5.3 million Americans continued to receive state unemployment benefits, up from 5.1 million the previous week.

Many more Americans are receiving unemployment assistance from two federal programs – one that provides extended benefits to people who have exhausted state aid and the other that provides benefits to self-employed and contract workers.

These two programs had expired towards the end of December. They were renewed late, until mid-March, as part of a $ 900 billion bailout package that Congress approved and President Donald Trump signed into law. This package also includes $ 600 relief checks for most adults and an additional unemployment benefit of $ 300 per week. Democrats in Congress are in favor of increasing checks to $ 2,000 and extending federal aid beyond March, as does President-elect Joe Biden.

The weakness in the US labor market was clearly highlighted in the December jobs report released by the government last week. Employers have cut jobs for the first time since April as the pandemic tightens its grip on consumers and businesses.

The numbers also illustrate a very uneven labor market: Last month’s losses were concentrated in restaurants, bars, hotels and places of entertainment – places that provide in-person services that some governments have restricted or that consumers avoid. Educational services, primarily colleges and universities, also reduced the number of workers in December. Just like movie and music studios.

Most of the other major industries, however, reported job gains. Many economists expected last spring that the job losses would spill over to more industries. Although all sectors of the economy initially laid off workers, most of them avoided deep layoffs. Manufacturing, construction, and professional services like engineering and architecture, for example, all created jobs in December.

At the same time, many companies seem reluctant to increase recruitments. A government report on Tuesday showed employers announced fewer vacancies in November than in October. The decline, although small, was widespread in most industries. Even now, the country has nearly 10 million fewer jobs than before the pandemic caused a deep recession almost a year ago, …

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