Another 779,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits on a seasonally adjusted basis in the last week of January, the Labor Department said Thursday.
For yet another week, claims were nearly four times the level of the same period last year, before the pandemic brought the nation to a standstill. This underscores once again that the jobs recovery isn’t in great shape as we near one year since the pandemic hit the US.
It was also the 46th straight week that initial claims were higher than they were in the worst week of the Great Recession, wrote Heidi Shierholz, director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute, on Twitter.
Still, it was a sizable decrease in claims from the prior week and the first drop below the 800,000 mark since the start of the month. Last week’s claims figure was revised down to 812,000, still several times the number during the same period last year,
On top of regular jobless benefits, 348,912 workers filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which is available for people such as the self-employed or gig workers.
Added together, 1.2 million workers filed first-time claims for benefits without adjusting for seasonal swings. It was a modest improvement from the week before, at about 78,200 fewer claims.
Continued claims, which count people who have filed for at least two consecutive weeks of aid, stood at 4.6 million. That was down from 4.8 million.
In fact, there were improvements in almost every category of benefits. Overall, 17.8 million Americans received some form of government help in the week ended January 16.
Only one category increased that week: federal employees and workers receiving extended benefits after maxing out other benefits available to them.
The rise in extended benefit recipients “is particularly concerning since fewer than half the states are providing these benefits,” said Nancy Vanden Houten, lead US economist at Oxford Economics.
January wasn’t a great month for the jobs recovery and Friday’s jobs report for the month isn’t expected to bring much better news. While economists predict 50,000 jobs were added last month, a reversal from the staggering loss in December, the unemployment rate is expected to stay flat at 6.7%. It hasn’t budged since November.
“While it appears that the worst of the pandemic layoffs may be behind us, the damage done to the jobs market will last for months, if not years,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.
The number of employed Americans will not return to its pre-pandemic level until 2024, the Congressional Budget Office predicted earlier this week.