Unemployment Claims Send Another Worrisome Note

Filings for benefits reflect continued layoffs and a sluggish recovery. “The numbers are going in the wrong direction,” one economist said.

By Nelson D. Schwartz and Gillian Friedman

Despite some signs of economic revival, the outlook for American workers remains treacherous, with layoffs continuing to claim hundreds of thousands of jobs a week.

The weekly figures on unemployment claims from the Labor Department on Thursday showed no relief, reflecting what Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays, said was “a transition to a slower pace of recovery, and one that will be more uneven.”

The department reported that more than 857,000 workers filed new claims for state unemployment insurance last week, before seasonal adjustments, a slight increase from the previous week. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the total was 884,000, unchanged from the revised figure for the previous week.

In addition, about 839,000 new claims were tallied under a federal program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides assistance to freelancers, part-time workers and others who do not ordinarily qualify for state benefits. That figure, which is not seasonally adjusted, was up from 748,000 the previous week.

“It’s a gut punch to see these numbers every Thursday with no improvement,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton in Chicago. “The numbers are going in the wrong direction.”

Although weekly unemployment insurance filings are down from the peak of more than 6.5 million in early spring, they remain frustratingly high. Before the pandemic, new weekly claims were typically a little over 200,000. Many economists had expected them to fall much further by now.

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