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U.S. jobless claims rise to 898,000 with layoffs still high

A customer leaves a Pier 1 retail store,

A customer leaves a Pier 1 retail store, which is going out of business, in Coral Gables, Fla. on Aug. 6. Credit: AP / Lynne Sladky

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week by the most in two months, to 898,000, a historically high number and evidence that layoffs remain a hindrance to the economy’s recovery from the pandemic recession.

Thursday’s report from the Labor Department coincides with other recent data that have signaled a slowdown in hiring. The economy is still roughly 10.7 million jobs short of recovering all the 22 million jobs that were lost when the pandemic struck in early spring.

The job search website Indeed said its job postings were unchanged last week, remaining about 17% below last year’s levels. Many employers still aren’t confident enough in their businesses or in their view of the economy to ramp up hiring. Job postings had rebounded steadily over the summer, but the gains have slowed in the past two months.

"Further recovery looks to have stalled out," said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed. "Holiday hiring is sluggish, and many businesses need to make significant changes to ride out the colder months."

Fraud and issues around double-counting claims have caused many economists to take a more skeptical view of whether jobless aid applications are a precise barometer of layoffs.

A report Thursday from Moody's Analytics, a forecasting firm, and Morning Consult, a polling outfit, found that millions of people remain dependent on government aid. Roughly half of respondents in a survey last month said they were still using their $1,200 stimulus checks, which the government distributed in April and May, to pay for expenses. About 15% said they were relying on unemployment benefits.

More than 40% of the unemployed are also relying on financial help from relatives or friends. And 12 million households say they aren't sure they will be able to keep making their mortgage payments.

The government’s report Thursday, showing that initial requests for jobless aid rose 53,000 last week, also said the number of people who are continuing to receive benefits dropped 1.2 million to 10 million. That decline signals that many of the unemployed are being recalled to their old jobs. But it also means that potentially even more people have used up their regular state benefits — which usually expire after six months — and have transitioned to extended benefit programs that last an additional three months.

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