The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits remained historically high last week, indicating that employers are continuing to slash jobs amid a coronavirus resurgence that's threatening the labor market's nascent recovery.
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The latest jobless claims figures from the Labor Department, which covers the week ended July 11, show that 1.3 million workers sought jobless aid last week, pushing the total number since the shutdown began to more than 51 million.
Economists surveyed by Refinitiv had forecast 1.25 million new claims.
Continuing claims, the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid, fell by 422,000 to about 17.3 million, suggesting some companies are rehiring workers. The previous week's total was revised down by 302,000.
It's the 17th week in a row that jobless claims came in above 1 million; before the pandemic, the record high was 695,000 set in 1982.
The resurgence of COVID-19 infections and new shutdown measures in several U.S. states, including Florida and California, has intensified fears that the economic recovery is stalling after the blockbuster June jobs report showed the nation's unemployment rate fell from 13.3 percent to 11.1 percent last month.
Close to 3.5 million cases have been confirmed in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University, the most in the world.
California saw the biggest jump in claims last week, with more than 287,732 workers seeking jobless aid. Claims in Texas, Florida and Georgia were all above 100,000, the Labor Department said.
Applications fell in Texas, New Jersey and New York.
Tens of thousands of workers at Levi's, United Air Lines, American Air Lines and Wells Fargo learned this past week they were — or could be — laid off or furloughed soon.
The renewed threat of another round of layoffs is emerging just weeks before the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits, part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed in March, is set to expire.
If the virus outbreak intensifies, forcing businesses to shut down again, economists have warned the consequences could be dire.
“I think a second wave would really undermine public confidence and might make for a significantly longer recovery and weaker recovery,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said at the end of May.
Congress and the White House are set to intensify talks on a fourth round of virus relief once the Senate returns from its two-week Independence Day recess on July 20. However, it's still unclear what specific measures may be included in the package; some proposals still on the table include a second stimulus check, a back-to-work bonus, a payroll tax cut and liability protections for businesses.