Nearly 1.5 million Americans file new claims for jobless benefits

Nearly 1.5 million Americans file new claims for jobless benefits
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Nearly 1.5 million U.S. workers filed new applications for unemployment benefits in the third week of June despite easing coronavirus-related restrictions, according to data released Thursday by the Labor Department. 

In the week ending June 20, the seasonally adjusted number of initial claims for unemployment insurance totaled 1,480,000, a decrease of 60,000 from the previous week's revised level of 1,540,000 claims.

Another 728,120 U.S. workers filed claims for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which was designed to cover those who do not have jobs but don’t qualify for standard unemployment insurance. Roughly 1.6 million new claims for unemployment benefits have been filed on average in the past four weeks when not including the pandemic program.

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With last week’s claims, more than 6.6 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits through both programs since the start of June — almost triple the total jobs gained in 2019. 

“In other words, there are still more people claiming unemployment each week than there were net job gains all last year,” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at ZipRecruiter, in a Thursday tweet.

The number of weekly jobless claims has fallen substantially since the depth of the crisis in April, when as many as 6.8 million workers filed new applications for unemployment benefits in one week. The previous record was roughly 690,000 claims in the final week of October 1982.

The U.S. also added 2.5 million workers to payrolls in May, according to the Labor Department, despite widespread expectations of another month of steep job losses.

But the persistence of high weekly jobless claims almost two months into the loosening of restrictions remains a troubling sign for economists who have urged Congress not to let the $600 boost to unemployment benefits passed through the CARES Act expire on July 31.

“Today’s unemployment report reveals a labor market that is still reeling from the continued COVID-19 crisis, and subsequent onset of a recession—even as some leaders are willing to allow an unprecedented cut-off of billions of dollars in enhanced unemployment just four weeks from now,” wrote Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at the progressive Century Foundation, in a Thursday analysis.

The future of enhanced unemployment benefits may depend on the strength of the June jobs report set to be released next week. Another month of strong job gains could sap support for extending the pandemic safety net despite rising coronavirus cases across the country. But a reversal from May's rebound could reinforce Democratic calls for further aid.