Applications for jobless benefits remained high last week, even as the collapse of stimulus talks in Washington raised fears of a new wave of layoffs.
More than 804,000 Americans filed new claims for state unemployment benefits, the Labor Department said Thursday. That is up from 799,000 the week before, before accounting for seasonal patterns. Another 464,000 people applied for benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which covers freelancers, self-employed workers and others left out of the regular unemployment system.
Utah’s unemployment numbers ticked up slightly last week, with 4,574 residents filing new claims for benefits. Of those, some 739 were self-employed workers and 1,230 were seeking extended benefits after their traditional aid ran out.
New weekly claims in Utah have been hovering in the same range since Aug. 1, well down from their highs of 33,000 in one week in early April but still far above levels seen before the pandemic. The state is currently getting 40,389 ongoing jobless claims week to week, according to new data from the Department of Workforce Services.
Utah officials launched a campaign two weeks ago to encourage those furloughed in the pandemic to look for other jobs.
Kevin Burt, director of Utah’s unemployment insurance system, said in a statement Thursday the state expected new claims to rise further in the coming weeks due to the loss of some seasonal jobs.
For the second week in a row, national unemployment reports carry a golden-state-sized asterisk: California last month announced that it would temporarily stop accepting new unemployment applications while it addresses a huge processing backlog and puts in place procedures to weed out fraud.
In the absence of up-to-date data, the Labor Department is assuming California’s claim number was unchanged from its pre-shutdown figure of more than 225,000 applications, or more than one-quarter of the national total. The state began accepting new filings this week, and is expected to resume reporting data in time for next week’s report, although it isn’t yet clear how the backlog of claims filed this week will be reflected.
While the lack of data from California makes week-to-week comparisons difficult, the larger trend is clear: After falling swiftly from a peak of more than 6 million last spring, weekly jobless claims have stalled at a level far higher than the worst weeks of past recessions.
“The level of claims is still staggeringly high,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the career site Glassdoor. “We’re seeing evidence that the recovery is slowing down, whether it’s in slowing payroll gains or in the sluggish improvement in jobless claims.”
That slowdown comes as trillions of dollars in government aid to households and businesses has dried up. Prospects for a new stimulus package, already dubious in a divided Washington, collapsed outright this week when President Donald Trump said he was pulling out of negotiations.
Economists warn that without more aid, layoffs will rise again. Several major corporations like the Walt Disney Co. and Allstate Corp. have announced thousands of new job cuts. And with winter weather looming, restaurants and other businesses that were able to shift operations outdoors during warmer weather could be forced to pull back anew.
Millions of people who lost jobs earlier in the crisis remain out of work, and many are starting to exhaust their financial resources. The threat is particularly acute for people receiving benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and another program created in response to the pandemic, both of which expire at the end of the year.
“It seems increasingly unlikely that we’ll have a deal before the election, and bills are due now,” Zhao said. “Every week that passes puts extra pressure on workers households and small businesses, so any delay in the stimulus is going to have a meaningful impact on Americans.”