Figures released Thursday by the Labor Department show that 779,000 Americans filed first-time jobless claims in the week ended Jan. 30, lower than the 830,000 forecast by Refinitiv economists.
The number has been stubbornly high for months, hovering around four times the 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 in March. Almost 70 million Americans, or about 40% of the labor force, have filed for unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
Continued claims, or the number of Americans who are consecutively receiving unemployment benefits, fell to 4.59 million, a decline of about 193,000 from the previous week. The report shows that roughly 17.8 million Americans were receiving some kind of jobless benefit through Jan. 16, a decrease of 486,405 from the previous 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.
But Congressional Democrats, who saw that emergency aid as just the beginning of relief efforts, are barreling forward with passing a nearly $2 trillion stimulus package without any Republican support. The proposal, outlined by President Biden at the beginning of January, includes $160 billion for vaccine distribution and COVID-19 testing, extended unemployment benefits at $400 a week through September and a third stimulus check worth $1,400.