A diner sits closed in Brooklyn on Dec. 9 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

Unemployment claims up again, hitting nearly 900,000 last week

Associated Press Dec 17, 2020
A diner sits closed in Brooklyn on Dec. 9 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose again last week to 885,000 as a resurgence of coronavirus cases threatens the economy’s recovery from its springtime collapse.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of applications increased from 862,000 the previous week. It showed that nine months after the viral pandemic paralyzed the economy, many employers are still slashing jobs as the pandemic forces more business restrictions and leads many consumers to stay home.

Before the coronavirus erupted in March, weekly jobless claims had typically numbered only about 225,000. The far-higher current pace of claims reflects an employment market under stress and diminished job security for many.

The total number of people who are receiving traditional state unemployment benefits fell to 5.5 million from 5.8 million. That figure is down sharply from its peak of nearly 23 million in May. It means that some jobless Americans are finding jobs and no longer receiving aid. But it also indicates that many of the unemployed have used up their state benefits, which typically expire after six months.

With layoffs still elevated and new confirmed viral cases in the United States now exceeding 200,000 a day on average, the economy’s modest recovery is increasingly in danger. States and cities are issuing mask mandates, limiting the size of gatherings, restricting restaurant dining, closing gyms or reducing the hours and capacity of bars, stores and other businesses.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve signaled that it expects the economy to rebound at a healthy pace next year as viral vaccines become widely distributed. But Chair Jerome Powell warned that the next three to six months will likely be painful for the unemployed and small businesses as pandemic cases spike. The Fed made clear that it’s prepared to keep interest rates ultra-low for the long run to help the economy withstand those threats.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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