The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New unemployment claims top 1 million. Again.

People wearing face masks wait in line at a food distribution bank in a church parking in Los Angeles earlier this month. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
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The number of people applying for the first time for unemployment insurance ticked up last week to 1.1 million, from 970,000 the week before, a sign that job losses continue to plague the labor market five months into the coronavirus pandemic.

The weekly jobless claims had sunk slowly in recent months but have remained well above historical highs, averaging about 1.18 million a week for the last four weeks. Economists had predicted last week’s figure to approach the numbers from the previous week, which had fallen below 1 million for the first time in about five months.

Instead, the initial claims and new claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program available to gig and self-employed workers, both went up. About 543,000 new claims were filed for PUA for the week that ended on Aug. 15, up from 488,000 the week before.

“The fact that the claims are so high this far into the crisis is concerning,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the job site Indeed. “Yet the depths of the damage remain to be seen. I would definitely call it a canary raising alarms in the economic coal mine.”

Data shows the number of job postings slowly recovering in recent weeks, compared with postings from the year prior. However, last week, postings took a turn for the worse. They had been running about 18 percent below normal and fell to 20.3 percent below normal last week.

“The longer we go into this crisis, the longer people that have been temporarily laid off may not get called back,” Konkel said. “Businesses can only ride out this crisis for so long.”

More than 28 million people were receiving some form of unemployment benefits as of Aug. 1, the most recent week for that statistic, about equal to the previous week.

Uncertainty, anxiety and sleepless nights for the unemployed as Congress lets $600 benefit lapse

Job loss from the pandemic remains a singular crisis, without comparison in modern times. The country’s unemployment rate, last calculated in July, was 10.2 percent, and economists have warned that it could go up in August as the virus continues to alter life around the country.

The extra $600 in unemployment benefits that many workers credit with keeping them afloat expired at the end of July. And funds from the $660 billion PPP program, which gave grants and loans to companies to keep workers on payroll, have been running out for many recipients.

Companies announcing layoffs in recent days include Wieland Copper Products, in North Carolina, a Mohegan Sun casino in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Amsterdam Printing & Litho, a printing company in Upstate, N.Y., and Ohio sales and marketing company Maritz. School districts and local governments are also beginning to experience deep cuts: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) warned last week that as many as 22,000 city workers faced possible layoffs in the fall.