The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits rose last week, despite some signs the U.S. economy is strengthening as more Americans are vaccinated and pandemic-induced business restrictions are rolled back.
Figures released Thursday by the Labor Department show that 770,000 Americans filed first-time jobless claims in the week ended March 13, higher than the 700,000 forecast by Refinitiv economists.
Weekly jobless claims have remained stubbornly high for months, hovering around four times the typical pre-crisis level, although it's well below the peak of almost 7 million that was reached when stay-at-home orders were first issued a year ago in March.
There are roughly 9.5 million fewer jobs than there were last year in February before the crisis began.
Continuing claims, or the number of Americans who are consecutively receiving unemployment aid, fell to 4.124 million, a decline of 18,000 from the previous week. The report shows that roughly 18.216 million Americans were collecting jobless benefits for the week ending Feb. 27, a decrease of 1.9 million from the prior week.
Many more Americans are receiving jobless aid from two federal programs that Congress established with the passage of the CARES Act in March: One extends aid to self-employed individuals, gig workers and others who typically aren't eligible to receive benefits, and the other provides aid to those who have exhausted their state benefits.
The federal government renewed those programs at the end of December with the passage of a $900 billion relief package, which includes a supplemental $300-a-week jobless benefit, a one-time $600 stimulus check for most adults and new funding for a small business rescue program.
President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion stimulus package last week, extending the unemployment benefits through Sept. 6. The measure also includes a $1,400 stimulus check for millions of Americans, a one-year expansion of the child tax credit and hundreds of billions of dollars in aid for state and local governments, vaccine distribution efforts and schools.