WASHINGTON — Just over 1 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, a sign that the coronavirus outbreak continues to threaten jobs even as the housing market, auto sales and other segments of the economy rebound from a springtime collapse.
In Colorado, 22,867 people filed initial claims last week, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, including 16,417 that sought support from the federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
Thant’s up nearly 18% over last week’s total number of new claims in the state, and the highest single-week total since the week ending June 13. It’s further evidence that Colorado’s job market continues to sputter under the weight of the pandemic. Colorado ranked in the lower third among states for its jobs recovery rate in a recent study by WalletHub.
Jobs in the food and beverage industry, health care and social services sector, and retail continue to be the hardest hit, according to the state’s latest data.
Colorado’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell from 10.6% in June to 7.4% in July, state labor officials announced last week, but the drop coincided with an unprecedented decrease in the number of people actively participating in the state’s labor force. An estimated 97,500 people fell out of the workforce in July, bringing the state’s total number of workers to 3.08 million, a decline unmatched in records going back nearly 30 years.
It’s unclear what exactly contributed to the massive decline, but state labor economist Ryan Gedney theorized early retirements, people choosing to stay home with their children over returning to work and statistical volatility all could have played a role.
“I’m not sure we saw people who were unemployed that actively gave up because they were discouraged. We will see volatility in the monthly numbers. You have to take each month at a time,” Gedney said.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that the number of people seeking jobless aid nationwide last week dropped by 98,000 from 1.1 million the week before.
The number of initial claims has exceeded 1 million every week but one since late March, an unprecedented streak. Before the coronavirus pandemic, they had never topped 700,000 in a week.
“Layoffs are ongoing reflecting interruptions to activity from virus containment that are likely resulting in permanent closures and job losses,’ Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a research report.
Farooqi added that “the risk of permanent damage to the labor market remains high which will slow the pace of recovery. The return to pre-pandemic levels of prosperity is set to be an uncertain and prolonged process.’
More than 14.5 million are collecting traditional jobless benefits — up from 1.7 million a year ago — a sign that many American families are depending on unemployment checks to keep them afloat.
Until July 31, the unemployed were receiving an extra $600 a week in federal money on top of regular state unemployment benefits, part of an extraordinary lifeline extended to help them through the crisis. The loss of that money is putting the squeeze on many families.
“My income is basically cut in half,’ said Taylor Love, 34, an unemployed massage therapist in Austin, Texas. “Paying our mortgage is going to be a struggle. We’re going to have to dip into what little savings we have.’
After passing a massive financial rescue package in March, congressional Republicans and Democrats have been unable to agree on more aid. President Donald Trump signed an executive order Aug. 8 offering a stripped-down version of the expanded unemployment benefits. At least 39 states have accepted or said that they would apply for federal grants that let them increase weekly benefits by $300 or $400.
Last week, nearly 608,000 people applied for jobless aid under a new program that extends eligibility for the first time to self-employed and gig workers, up from 525,000 the previous week. That figure isn’t adjusted for seasonal trends, so it’s reported separately.
Altogether, the Labor Department said that 27 million people are receiving some form of unemployment benefits, though the figure may be inflated by double-counting by states.
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the American economy. Businesses closed and Americans stayed home to avoid infection. Economic activity plummeted. From April through June, gross domestic product — the broadest measure of economic output — shrank at an annual rate of 31.7%, by far the worst quarter on record. Employers slashed more than 22 million jobs in March and April.
Since then, the job market and the economy have been rebounding as businesses slowly reopened. Home sales and prices have been strong. Employers added nearly 9.3 million jobs in May, June and July — but that hiring surge replaced just 42% of the jobs lost in March and April.
A summertime resurgence of cases in the South and West forced many businesses to close again in July. The data firm Womply reports that business closures have mostly stabilized in the past four weeks. Still, 70% of Texas bars and 71% of California health and beauty shops were closed as of mid-August, Womply found.
Economists also worry that without additional government help the economy’s recovery will fade. “I really want Congress to come up with a benefits package,’ said Jacob Hanson, an unemployed temp worker in Seattle. “Everyone needs a hand right now. The situation is pretty ridiculous.’
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