US Unemployment Benefit Claims Hold Steady

The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 884,000 workers filed for unemployment compensation last week, a figure that was virtually unchanged from the week before but an indication that the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the American economy.  Millions of workers remain unemployed in the United States, although the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 8.4% in August even as economists say the jobless figure could remain elevated for months. Only about half of the 22 million U.S. jobs lost in the pandemic have been recovered, with the world’s biggest economy adding 1.4 million jobs last month.Last week’s jobless claims total was only the third weekly figure to drop below 1 million since the coronavirus severely impacted the economy starting in March.  U.S. employers have called back millions of workers who were laid off during mandatory business shutdowns earlier this year, yet some hard-hit businesses have been slow to ramp up their operations again or have closed permanently, leaving workers idled or searching for new employment.In politically fractious Washington less than two months from November’s presidential and congressional elections, President Donald Trump and Republican and Democratic lawmakers have been unable to reach an agreement on extending federal unemployment benefits and how much should be paid.Until the end of July, the national government sent an extra $600 a week to unemployed workers on top of less generous state jobless benefits. The Republican-controlled Senate is trying Thursday to advance $300-a-week payments through the end of the year, but Democrats say the amount is too small and continue to call for resumption of the $600 weekly payments.Democrats say they have enough votes to block the Republicans’ more limited funding for coronavirus relief. The Republican plan could cost from $500 billion to $700 billion, far less than the $2.2 trillion relief package that Democrats want.If the Republican measure is defeated, it is unclear whether stalled negotiations might resume or whether an agreement will be reached before Congress adjourns so lawmakers can campaign for re-election in their home states ahead of the November 3 vote.As the first round of payments expired in July, Trump signed an executive order calling for $400 a week in extra payments for a few weeks. But only a handful of state governments have started delivering the reduced payments to jobless workers.The coronavirus pandemic has now killed more than 190,000 people in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University figures, and caused the economy to plummet.  While the U.S. has been adding more jobs in recent months, the pace of the recovery seems to slow as a second wave of coronavirus infections in the U.S. surged in June and rose still more by mid-July, forcing employers to close their businesses again.  The 1.4 million jobs added in August includes the Census Bureau’s temporary hiring of about 240,000 workers to help conduct the once-a-decade count of the U.S. population.

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