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Data: Department of Labor; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Americans were starting to fall off the rolls of unemployment. But Thursday's claims report shows the drop-off hasn't just stalled out — the trend continues to reverse course.

Why it matters: Skepticism about the underlying data remains. But economists are still worried about the high level of Americans relying on some form of unemployment benefits, which is once again rising six months after the pandemic hit, even as the economy has reopened.

By the numbers: Roughly 14.5 million workers were collecting benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides benefits to gig workers, the self-employed and others with limited work history, as of the week ending in Aug. 29.

  • That’s a drop-off from the prior week’s figure, but is still likely overstated.
  • A Labor Department spokesperson told WSJ that it's monitoring the PUA program and working with states where some of the numbers appear to be inflated.

Between the lines: A separate program designed to be tapped once regular unemployment benefits have been exhausted hit its highest level since it was established: 1.5 million people are now receiving benefits through that program.

What they’re saying: The rise in people in the extended unemployment benefits program "means ranks of the 'permanently unemployed' continue to increase," Robert Frick, an economist at the Navy Federal Credit Union, said in a statement.

  • That — plus the uptick in overall Americans receiving some form of unemployment — "add up to a situation where quick advances in driving down unemployment are stalling, and we can now expect tougher going, especially without more stimulus and a faster decline in COVID-19 cases."

What to watch: New state-level unemployment data is out later this morning. It's the most comprehensive look at how states’ labor markets fared in August.

  • 1 stat to go: Here's how quickly the pandemic shifted the ground for states across the country. 18 states both saw their lowest level of unemployment ever and their highest level of unemployment ever this year. (h/t AEI economist Ben Ippolito)

Go deeper

Dec 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden: "Darkest days" ahead

Photo: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Rare words from an incoming president: "Our darkest days in the battle against COVID are ahead of us, not behind us," President-elect Biden warned Tuesday afternoon during remarks in Wilmington.

Why it matters: Biden is promising to tell America the truth, which includes the reality of many more horrific months, no matter who is in charge.

Advocates say Biden has let Haitian migrants down

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Christian Torres/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Continued turmoil in Haiti is causing a growing number of Haitians to try to make it to American shores — and some advocates say the Biden administration isn't supporting this community in its time of crisis.

The big picture: Haitian-American activists in South Florida told Axios Today they feel like President Biden has gone back on campaign promises he made to the community to stand up for them.

53 mins ago - Health

Supply isn't our only COVID treatment problem

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Antiviral COVID treatments are hailed as a pandemic game-changer, but they're currently in very short supply — and that's only one of several barriers to access for high-risk patients.

The big picture: Even when supply ramps up, it will still be tricky to connect some of the most vulnerable patients to the pills without changes to the process.