WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell slightly last week to 793,000, evidence that job cuts remain high despite a substantial decline in new viral infections.
Last week’s total declined from 812,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That figure was revised higher from the previously-reported figure of 779,000. Before the virus erupted in the United States in March, weekly applications for jobless aid had never topped 700,000, even during the Great Recession.
The job market’s improvement slowed through the fall and in the past two months has essentially stalled. Over the past two months combined, employers have cut 178,000 jobs. Nearly 10 million jobs remain lost to the pandemic.
Though the unemployment rate fell in January to 6.3% from 6.7%, that was mainly because many people who had lost jobs stopped looking for one. The government doesn’t count people as unemployed unless they’re actively seeking work.
All told, 20.4 million people were receiving unemployment benefits in the week that ended Jan. 23, the latest period for which data are available. That’s up from 17.8 million from the week before.
The job market’s persistent weakness is fueling President Joe Biden’s push for a $1.9 trillion economic rescue package. Biden’s proposal would extend, through August, two federal unemployment benefit programs that are set to expire in mid-March. His proposal would also raise the federal unemployment benefit to $400 a week from the current $300.
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