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US unemployment drops below one million for first time since pandemic hit

‘Much labour market progress remains to be done,’ economist says

Louise Hall
Thursday 13 August 2020 17:57 BST
Trump's top economic adviser appears extremely confused over new unemployment executive orders

The number of workers in the US applying for unemployment aid fell below one million last week for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic hit the nation.

Weekly applications declined to 963,000, the second straight drop from 1.2 million the previous week, the Labour Department said on Thursday.

The figure is still over 250,000 more than the pre-pandemic levels of around 700,000, as the economic impact of the virus continues to render people unemployed.

The numbers come just at supplemental coronavirus jobless aid expires throughout the country, with negotiations to extend the benefit having collapsed in Congress.

“Another larger-than-expected decline in jobless claims suggests that the jobs recovery is regaining some momentum, but...much labour market progress remains to be done,” said Lydia Boussour, senior economist at Oxford Economics.

Ms Boussour says that the figures reflect “the painfully slow recovery in the labour market.”

To aid those still suffering from unemployment amidst the pandemic, Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum over the weekend authorising an extra $400 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits.

However, officials have been sceptical that it will take time to build a new system to administer the money, and fears have already raised by state officials that they will not have the funds to contribute 25 per cent to the scheme.

Low-paid workers such as waiters and gig economy workers such as independent contractors and temporary workers also might not qualify for the higher unemployment payments.

The number of people receiving jobless aid in the US also dropped from 16.1 million to 15.5 million last week.

However, with the inclusion of gig and self-employed recipients, the Labour Department says 28.2 million people, roughly 18% of the US workforce, are now receiving some form of unemployment benefits.

Economies across the country are still struggling to recover from the pandemic and safely reopen from lockdown while maintaining low infection rates.

This week, the US surpassed five million coronavirus infections, with one out of every 66 residents infected with the disease according to an analysis by Reuters.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

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