Yes, it’s still bad — but there may be a glimmer of hope in the latest unemployment numbers.
New applications for jobless benefits dropped to 793,000 last week even as the coronavirus crisis kept jobless filings at historic highs, the feds said Thursday.
The latest batch of initial jobless claims brought the total for the COVID-19 pandemic to about 78 million — equivalent to nearly 49 percent of the American workforce.
Nevertheless, last week’s filings fell from the prior week’s revised total of 812,000 to reach their lowest level since the week ending Jan. 9, US Department of Labor figures show.
“Claims remain stuck at painfully high levels,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union in Vienna, Virginia. “But we are seeing hopeful signs that claims will begin meaningful declines in the next month or two.”
The past month’s decline in new claims came as the nation’s deadly surge in coronavirus infections began to wane. New cases are now falling in 44 states after peaking at a daily record of about 312,000 in early January, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
That’s stoking optimism among some economists that hiring momentum could pick up by the spring.
“As states continue to gradually reopen their economies amid improved infection rates, vaccine distribution and fiscal aid, the labor market could slowly recover,” Bloomberg economist Eliza Winger said.
Still, jobless claims have remained above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 for 47 consecutive weeks as the job market slowly bounced back from last spring’s historic downturn.
Economists were expecting 753,000 filings for last week, according to Wrightson ICAP.
The weekly unemployment claims report from the Labor Department, the most timely data on the economy’s health, also highlighted labor market scarring, with over 20 million people collecting unemployment checks in late January.
The continued threat of the virus led the US economy to add just 49,000 jobs in January after losing 227,000 in December.
Economists say that meager growth underscores the need for Congress to act on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal, which would extend key aid programs such as a $300 weekly boost to unemployment benefits that are set to expire in March.