The number of Americans applying for state unemployment benefits inched down last week, indicating the pace of layoffs is still elevated even as the economy slowly recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.
The latest jobless claims figures from the Labor Department, which cover the week ending Sept. 26, show that 837,000 workers sought aid last week, about four-times the pre-crisis level.
Economists surveyed by Refinitiv expected 850,000 new claims. Last week's figure was revised upward by 3,000 to 873,000.
The number of people who are continuing to receive unemployment benefits fell to 11.7 million, a decline of 980,000 from the previous week.
Roughly 1 million unemployed Americans have been seeking aid each week for the past six months, when the COVID-19 crisis triggered an unprecedented shutdown of the nation's economy, pointing to a sluggish turnaround. It's down from the peak of more than 6 million claims in late March, but remains well above the 200,000 reported in February. Before the pandemic, the record high was 695,000, set in 1982.
There's also an asterisk to the data: California paused processing initial claims for two weeks in an effort to clear a backlog and adopt fraud-prevention technology, the Labor Department said. This week’s report reflects the level during the last week before the pause and will be adjusted accordingly at a later date.
Several large employers have recently warned of, or implemented, job cuts.
Disney laid off 28,000 workers, mostly at its two U.S. theme parks. United and American Airlines sent furlough notices to 32,000 employees on Wednesday after federal COVID aid expired, and Royal Dutch Shell said it planned to cut between 7,000 and 9,000 jobs by the end of 2022.
"This underscores the significant risk in the coming weeks and months of more widely shared pain resulting from pandemic-related constraints," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate.
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The report comes as a $300-a-week federal unemployment boost that President Trump issued at the beginning of August is beginning to expire in some states.
Economists have urged Congress to overcome a month-long stalemate and pass another round of emergency relief for workers and businesses reeling from the pandemic and have warned that without additional stimulus, the recovery could stall out.
The data comes one day before the release of the more-closely watched September jobs report, which is predicted to show the U.S. economy added 850,000 jobs last month, down slightly from August's gain of 1.4 million. Analysts anticipate unemployment will edge lower to 8.2% from 8.4%.