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U.S. layoffs remain high as 884,000 seek jobless aid

"Help wanted" signs for servers and cooks in Farmington, Pa.
“Help wanted” signs for servers and cooks at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa in Farmington, Pa.
(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits was unchanged last week at 884,000, a sign that layoffs are stuck at a historically high level six months after the COVID-19 pandemic flattened the economy.

The latest figure released by the Labor Department on Thursday still far exceeds the number who sought benefits in any week on record before this year.

The job market is improving fitfully as portions of the economy have reopened and companies are recalling some workers they had temporarily laid off. Employers have so far added back about half the record 22 million jobs that were lost to the pandemic.

But hiring has slowed since June, and a rising number of laid-off workers say they regard their job loss as permanent. Recovery of those jobs will likely take longer to achieve. Jobless people typically find it harder to land work at a new company or in a new industry than to return to a previous employer.

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The government also said Thursday that 13.4 million people are continuing to receive traditional jobless benefits, up from 13.3 million the previous week. The increase suggests that hiring isn’t occurring quickly enough to offset layoffs.

Hiring will likely remain restrained as long as Americans are unable or reluctant to resume their normal habits of shopping, traveling, dining out and engaging in other commercial activity. The rate of reported coronavirus infections has dropped over the past several weeks but remains well above where it was during the spring. Most analysts say the economy won’t likely be able to sustain a recovery until a vaccine is widely available.

Last week, the government reported that the nation gained 1.4 million jobs in August, down from 1.7 million in July. It was the lowest monthly gain since hiring resumed in May. The unemployment rate dropped from 10.2% to 8.4%, a reduction that economists said mainly reflected businesses recalling workers who had been temporarily laid off rather than hiring new employees.

Economists say the recovery is being imperiled by Congress’ failure to agree to another emergency rescue package. The expiration of a $600-a-week federal jobless benefit has deepened the difficulties for America’s unemployed.

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The Trump administration is providing a stripped-down version of that benefit at $300 a week. Yet because of a patchwork of rules, some of the unemployed don’t qualify for it — notably, people whose state benefits are less than $100 a week.

The $300-a-week aid program is so far operational in just 12 states, including California, Arizona, Florida and Texas. Some large states such as New York, Michigan and Illinois haven’t yet started paying the money.

In addition to the laid-off people who applied last week for state benefits, about 840,000 others sought jobless aid under a federal program that has made self-employed and gig workers eligible for the first time. That figure isn’t adjusted for seasonal trends, so it is reported separately.

All told, the Labor Department said 29.6 million people are receiving some form of unemployment benefit from the federal or state governments, though that figure might be inflated by double-counting in some states.


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