The number of Americans applying for state unemployment benefits dropped last week, even as a surge in coronavirus cases and colder weather continue to threaten the labor market's recovery from the pandemic.
The latest jobless claims figures from the Labor Department, which cover the week ending Nov. 28, show that 712,000 workers sought aid last week, about three times the pre-crisis level. Still, it's well below the peak of nearly 7 million in late March, when states first implemented lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Economists surveyed by Refinitiv expected 775,000 new claims. It marked a decrease from the upwardly revised figure of 787,000 one week ago.
Close to 68 million Americans ‒ roughly 40% of the nation's labor force ‒ have applied for aid since the coronavirus lockdowns began in mid-March.
The number of people who are continuing to receive unemployment benefits fell for the 10th consecutive week to 5.52 million, a decline of about 569,000 from the previous week. The decline suggests that employers are calling their workers back.
Still, some of the drop in so-called continuing claims may represent workers who have used up the maximum number of payments available through state unemployment programs (typically about six months) and are now receiving benefits through a separate federal program that extends the aid by 13 weeks. Congress created the extra federal benefits earlier this year with the passage of the CARES Act.
But those key federal jobless aid programs created in March are slated to expire at the end of the year, leaving about 12 million workers with no income on Dec. 26, according to a new study published by the Century Foundation, a nonprofit think tank.
Job losses remain elevated and, as COVID-19 cases surge across the country, prompting state and local governments to implement new lockdown measures, economists are increasingly warning of a bleak winter.
“It would be very helpful and very important that there be additional fiscal support for the economy, really to get us through the winter,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told lawmakers this week. “I think we made a lot of progress faster than we expected, and now we have a big spike in COVID cases, and it may weigh on economic activity."
The latest claims figure came one day before the Labor Department's closely watched November jobs report, which is expected to show the economy added 469,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 6.8%, according to Refinitiv economists.