More than 1.3m Americans file for unemployment as coronavirus cases surge

After four-month low in jobless claims, states brace for another spike in applications as Covid-19 forces more closures

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 09 July 2020 18:47
Donald Trump still thinks that coronavirus will 'disappear'

More than 1.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, as several states begin reversing plans to reopen their economies and resume statewide shutdowns after surging coronavirus case numbers across the US.

Initial unemployment claims fell by 99,000, marking a gradual decline since jobless claims were at their peak in mid-March.

Though last week's jobless claims marked a four-month low amid the pandemic, nearly 33 million people continued to receive unemployment benefits

Fifteen states have paused phased openings, and six states have rolled back their reopening plans and forced restaurants and other businesses to shutter or significantly limit their operations.

More than 50 million Americans have filed jobless claims over the course of the public health crisis, with new applications for unemployment benefits topping more than 1 million for 16 straight weeks.

Unemployment dropped from a high of 14.7 per cent in May to 11.1 per cent in June, as Americans were rehired or allowed to return to work after sweeping layoffs and furloughs triggered by the pandemic's economic fallout. The Labour Department's figures don't include freelance and "gig" economy workers whose livelihoods also have been threatened by the coronavirus.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump hailed June's numbers from the Labour Department on 2 July as a sign that the "economy is roaring back" – though overall reported unemployed is still higher than at the peak of the 2008 recession. The biggest jump in last month's job gains came from service and hospitality industries, which are likely endangered by recent closures as Covid-19 cases spike.

But Thursday's figures from the week ending on 4 July show a slight drop from the previous week, during which 1.4 million Americans filed for unemployment.

Another 1 million Americans sought assistance through a separate plan aimed at self-employed freelance and gig economy workers who became eligible for aid for the first time amid the pandemic. Those numbers aren't included in overall jobless numbers.

The latest unemployment figures follow the US surpassing 3 million Covid-19 infections, with 1 million of those cases confirmed within the last month alone.

More than 132,000 Americans have died.

Governors once reluctant to shutter their states and impose lockdowns or other quarantine measures, including mandates that residents were masks in public, are now rolling back plans to reopen.

Congressional Democrats have urged the White House to consider extending emergency unemployment benefits, as nationwide jobless claims threaten to remain in double digit percentages through the rest of 2020.

In March, Congress approved a $600 weekly addition to unemployment benefits, but the checks are set to expire at the end of July. House Democrats approved an extension of the relief through January 2021, but the measure has been dismissed by the administration and the Republican-controlled Senate.

A letter to the president on Thursday signed by more than 100 House Democrats stressed that the benefits extension is "essential" to the lagging economic recovery.

"Cutting off enhanced unemployment benefits while the economy is still in crisis would ignore the millions of Americans who are still suffering," the letter says.

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