Figures released Thursday by the Labor Department show that 745,000 Americans filed first-time jobless claims in the week ended Feb. 27, slightly lower than the 750,000 forecast by Refinitiv economists. Last week's figure was revised up from 730,000 to 736,000.
Weekly jobless claims have remained stubbornly high for months, hovering around four times the typical precrisis level, although it's well below the peak of almost 7 million that was reached when stay-at-home orders were first issued in March.
There are roughly 10 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 4.29 million, a decline of 124,000 from the previous week. The report shows that roughly 18 million Americans were collecting jobless benefits for the week ending Feb. 13, a decline of about 1 million from the previous week.
"Although we can almost taste improvement in the economy likely coming, we’re not there yet as we look at the latest claims numbers," said Mark Hamrick, chief Bankrate.com economist. "Both the headline number covering traditional state programs and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program totals were on the rise. The total number of individuals on some form of unemployment assistance remains massive."
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.
But those benefits expire in mid-March and could leave more than 11 million Americans without an income, according to a new report released by The Century Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank.
Congressional Democrats are rushing to pass President Biden's nearly $2 trillion relief package before that deadline using a process known as budget reconciliation, which will allow them to approve the legislation using a simple majority.
A version of the bill passed by the House on Saturday and that will be considered by the Senate this week increases the supplemental unemployment benefit to $400 a week through the end of August. It also includes a third $1,400 stimulus check for Americans earning less than $75,000.