The coronavirus recession struck swiftly and violently. Now, with the U.S. economy still in the grip of the outbreak five months later, the recovery looks fitful and uneven — and painfully slow.
The latest evidence came Thursday, when the Labor Department reported that the number of workers applying for unemployment climbed back over 1 million last week after two weeks of declines. Utah’s new applications ticked up as well, although ongoing claims for aid dropped by far more as many residents returned to work or filled new job openings.
Utah officials saw 5,321 new jobless applications the week ending Aug. 15, ending five weeks of steady declines. The Utah Department of Workforce Services said 66,984 residents filed ongoing claims the same week.
The state of Utah also marked its first week of requiring workers who describe themselves as furloughed from their prior workplace to apply for other job openings as a condition for getting state unemployment benefits. DWS had waived that rule in the first five months of the pandemic.
The jobless numbers suggest that employers across the country are still slashing jobs or keeping their employees sidelined 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 AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed, a job listings website.
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.
The previous weekly report from the Labor Department showed new jobless claims had dipped below 1 million for the first time since March, to 971,000. But that trend reversed itself this time.
Many businesses and consumers remain paralyzed 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%.
Those who are drawing unemployment are now getting far less aid because a $600-a-week federal benefit has expired, which means they must get by on the much smaller benefits from their states. That has deepened the struggle for many and put some in danger of eviction.
President Donald Trump has signed an executive order to provide $300 a week in federal unemployment aid. Twenty-five states so far have said they will dispense it, though they would need to revamp their computer systems, and it could take a few weeks for the money to start flowing to some recipients. Arizona said Monday it has started paying out the extra $300 this week, the first state to do so.
Utah announced earlier this week it would also participate in the plan, although the state’s unemployment insurance director said the payments would only last for three weeks and wouldn’t go out until mid-September, retroactively.
State unemployment benefits average about $308 a week. In some states, the payouts are much smaller. Louisiana pays the nation’s lowest average benefit: $183. Mississippi is next-lowest, at $187. The highest is in Hawaii, at $456, followed by North Dakota and Massachusetts at $426.
Utah’s maximum benefit is capped at about $580 weekly.
AP Writer Rebecca Santana in New Orleans and Salt Lake Tribune reporter Tony Semerad contributed to this report.