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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.

Go deeper

Sep 25, 2020 - Health

Florida fully lifts coronavirus restrictions on restaurants

Photo: Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced Friday the state will completely reopen its economy, allowing restaurants to operate at full capacity and barring localities from ordering businesses to close.

Why it matters: The state became one of the world's epicenters for the virus in July, forcing DeSantis to pause its first round of reopening.

Updated 4 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."