US unemployment remains high as 803,000 seek aid


A woman receives a bag of groceries at a food bank at the Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. “This neighborhood is hard hit by COVID-19. Our families work in service industry jobs,” said Carlyn Oropez, director of operations at the facility. “Most of the people here have had reduction in hours, reduction in pay or have lost their jobs. They are coming here for help with basic needs.” (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits declined slightly last week to a still-elevated 803,000, evidence that the job market remains under stress nine months after the coronavirus outbreak sent the U.S. economy into recession and caused millions of layoffs.

The latest report released by the Labor Department Wednesday shows that the number of people filing for jobless benefits decreased by 89,000 to a total of 803,000. The previous two weeks had shown increases in the number of Americans filing for unemployment.

“For the first time this month, new unemployment claims have declined week over week,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate. “The decline of 89,000 in seasonally adjusted new claims puts them at 803,000, about four times higher than what was seen a year ago.”

The number of people continuing to receive traditional unemployment benefits also declined by 170,000 to a total of 5.3 million people.

That figure is down sharply from its peak of nearly 23 million in May. It means that some jobless Americans are finding jobs and no longer receiving aid. But it also indicates that many of the unemployed have used up their state benefits, which typically expire after six months.

“There’s an additional number of nearly 398,000 in new claims under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Between more than one million total new claims on the week and the running total of more than 20 million individuals on some form of unemployment assistance as of the latest week, we’re still seeing a historically elevated number of requests for help,” Hamrick said.

Millions more jobless Americans are now collecting checks under two federal programs that were created in March to ease the economic pain inflicted by the pandemic. Those programs had been set to expire the day after Christmas. On Monday, Congress agreed to extend them as part of a $900 billion pandemic relief package.

On Tuesday night, though, President Donald Trump suddenly raised doubts about that aid and other federal money by attacking Congress’ package as inadequate and suggesting that he might not sign it into law.

“As with most things legislative, the stimulus package was imperfect, very late, but better late than never and far better than nothing,” Hamrick said. “It would make the difference between an economy that could contract in the first quarter, versus remaining above water. All of this as we get to the better place where a substantial number of Americans will have been vaccinated.”

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