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

Another 1.5 million Americans filed new applications for jobless benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Why it matters: The number of unemployment applications is still historically high, though they have steadily dropped since peaking at 6.9 million at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: Continued claims, or the number of Americans who remain on the ranks of unemployment after initially applying, dipped slightly to 20.5 million. (For context, before the pandemic, there had never been more than 6.6 million people continuing to collect unemployment — a record set in 2009.)

  • Continued claims are watched closely. Consistent drops are a sign that a wave of workers are falling off the ranks of unemployment and possibly returning to work.
  • While continued claims are slowly trending lower, the figure hasn't budged significantly in recent weeks.

An additional 760,000 Americans filed new applications for "Pandemic Unemployment Assistance," which extends unemployment benefits to the self-employed and gig workers under the federal stimulus bill.

  • That figure is higher than last week, but — as with applications for the regular unemployment program — that could because states are still processing backlogs.
  • A total of 9.3 million people are still receiving unemployment benefits under this program after initially applying — slightly less than the previous week.

Of note: The extended unemployment benefits established under the CARES Act are set to stop at the end of July, a setback for people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are still unable to find work.

The bottom line: A staggeringly high number of Americans are still applying (more than double the all-time pre-coronavirus record set in 1982) and relying on unemployment benefits.

  • "In today’s gradually-reopening coronavirus economy, hires (or rehires) are now outpacing job losses, but we are still seeing a huge number of people losing jobs," Heidi Shierholz, a former economist at the Department of Labor, tweeted Thursday.

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