Rise in jobless claims reflects still-struggling US economy

WASHINGTON (AP) — The coronavirus recession struck swiftly and violently. Now, with the United States (US) economy still in the grip of the outbreak five months later, the recovery looks fitful and uneven — and painfully slow.

The latest evidence came on Thursday, when the government reported that the number of workers applying for unemployment climbed back over one million last week after two weeks of declines.

The figures suggest that employers are still slashing jobs even as some businesses reopen and some sectors like housing and manufacturing have rebounded.

“Getting the virus in check dictates when there’ll be relief from this economic nightmare, and it doesn’t look like it will be soon,” said Economist Ann Elizabeth Konkel at Indeed, a job listings website.

The scourge in the US has killed more than 170,000 people and caused over 5.5 million confirmed infections, with deaths rising by more than 1,000 a day on average. Worldwide, the death toll stands at about 790,000, with over 22 million cases.

The overall number of laid-off American workers collecting unemployment benefits declined last week from 15.5 million to 14.8 million. Many of them probably found jobs. But some may have used up all their benefits, which in most states run out after about six months.

A person looks inside the closed doors of the Pasadena Community Job Center in Pasadena. PHOTO: AP

In the US, the previous weekly report from the Labor Department showed new jobless claims had dipped below one million for the first time since March, to 971,000.

But that trend reversed itself this time.

Many businesses and consumers remain paralysed by uncertainty and restricted by lockdowns, and job gains appear to be slowing from the rapid bounce-backs of May and June, when millions of restaurant and store employees were rehired. The number of job openings posted on Indeed fell last week for the first time since April.

Twenty-two million jobs were lost to the outbreak in March and April.

In the past three months, only 9.3 million have been regained, and unemployment remains high at 10.2 per cent.

Until the virus can be brought under control, economists agree, any recovery is destined to remain weak.

Kronos, a company that makes time-tracking software for small businesses, said the number of shifts worked by its clients is barely growing after rising steadily in the previous three months. Shifts worked are stuck at about 10 per cent below their pre-pandemic level.

“It’s increasingly clear that the last 10 per cent of the recovery will be the most challenging,” said Kronos Vice President Dave Gilbertson.

At the same time, those who are drawing unemployment are now getting far less aid because a USD600-a-week federal benefit has expired, which means they must get by solely on the much smaller benefits from their states.