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Before the virus hit the United States hard last March, weekly applications for jobless aid had never topped 700,000. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
COVID & Unemployment

Unemployment claims drop but remain historically high

Associated Press Jan 28, 2021
Before the virus hit the United States hard last March, weekly applications for jobless aid had never topped 700,000. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell but remained at a historically high 847,000 last week, a sign that layoffs keep coming as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage.

Last week’s claims fell by 67,000, from 914,000 the week before, the Labor Department said Thursday. Before the virus hit the United States hard last March, weekly applications for jobless aid had never topped 700,000.

Overall, nearly 4.8 million Americans are continuing to receive traditional state unemployment benefits. That is down from a staggering peak of nearly 25 million in May when the virus — and lockdowns and other measures to contain it — brought economic activity to a near halt. The drop suggests that some of the unemployed are finding new jobs and that others have exhausted state benefits.

The job market remains under strain even though the spread of COVID-19 vaccines offers hope for an end to the health crisis and a return to normal economic life.

The United States is now recording just under 150,000 new coronavirus cases a day. That is down from nearly 250,000 a day early this month but still more than twice the levels seen from March until a resurgence in cases in late October. So far, more than 425,000 Americans have died from the pandemic.

The virus has forced state and local governments to restrict operations of restaurants, bars and other businesses and has discouraged Americans from venturing out of their homes.

Since February, the United States has lost 9.8 million jobs, including 140,000 in December.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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