Jun 11, 2020 - Economy

1.5 million Americans filed for unemployment last week

Data: U.S. Employment and Training Administration via FRED; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: U.S. Employment and Training Administration via FRED; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Another 1.5 million Americans filed jobless claims last week, according to data released by the Labor Department on Thursday.

Why it matters: Unemployment applications have tapered off from their peak at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but remain at historically high rates even as states take steps to reopen and businesses start to bring workers back.

By the numbers: Twelve weeks after the crisis began, new unemployment applications are still more than double the previous record number of weekly filings — set in 1982.

  • Continued claims, or the number of Americans continuing to receive unemployment benefits after initially applying, dipped slightly to 20.9 million from 21.2 million.
  • A drop-off in this figure is a sign that a wave of workers are falling off the ranks of unemployment and possibly returning to work.

And additional 705,000 Americans filed for "Pandemic Unemployment Assistance," which extends unemployment benefits to the self-employed and gig workers under the federal stimulus bill.

  • A total of 9.7 million people are still receiving unemployment benefits under this program after initially applying — roughly 1 million fewer from the previous week.
  • Of note: Some states are still not reporting this figure to the Labor Department yet.

Between the lines: Economists are still trying "to reconcile weekly data with the unemployment rate," as Bloomberg notes.

  • The unemployment report is the timeliest gauge of layoffs, but it's an imperfect measure of the employment picture in America. For one, it doesn't capture changes in hiring.
  • Despite millions of unemployment filings in early to mid-May, the job market saw a net gain of 2.5 million jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said last week — while the unemployment rate fell to 13.3%.

The big picture: The federal stimulus bill passed in March grants an additional $600 in unemployment benefits per week to jobless Americans. It's unclear whether Congress will extend those more generous benefits, which are set to stop at the end of July.

  • Economists worry that will be a setback for people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are still unable to find work.
  • Fed chair Jerome Powell told reporters on Wednesday that "it's possible that Congress will need to do more in terms of the $600 unemployment insurance," but stopped short of saying what lawmakers should do.
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