Weekly unemployment in the United States claims 1.5 million amid coronavirus-led unemployment

  • Unemployment claims for the week ending Saturday totaled 1.5 million, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was slightly higher than the consensus economist estimate of 1.3 million.
  • Thursday’s report marked the twelfth consecutive week of declining claims. It also brought a total of submissions over a 14-week period to approximately 47 million.
  • Continuing claims, the aggregate total of people receiving unemployment benefits, totaled 19.5 million for the week ending June 13.
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More than a million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, indicating that pandemic-induced layoffs remain very high, even with the reopening of the US economy.

Weekly unemployment claims in the United States totaled 1.5 million in the week ending Saturday, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was slightly higher than the consensus economist estimate of 1.3 million, according to Bloomberg data. It is the second week in a row that weekly jobless claims have been higher than economists’ estimates.

In just a few months, the approximately 47 million unemployment claims filed during the coronavirus pandemic have far exceeded the approximately 37 million during the 18-month Great Recession. Even though weekly claims have steadily declined for 12 straight weeks, they are still more than double the 665,000 filed during the worst week of the Great Recession.

“The labor market continues its lethargic recovery,” said Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at Glassdoor. “While recent economic indicators, such as the May jobs report, fueled optimism for a rapid recovery earlier this month, the slow improvement in continuing claims curbs those high hopes.”

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initial week of unemployment claims ending 6 20 20

Andy Kiersz / Business Insider

Continuing claims, representing the aggregate total of people receiving unemployment benefits, reached 19.5 million for the week ending June 13, down from 20.5 million in the previous report.

“This was better than expected, but we would warn that it is quite choppy and could go up once again next week,” said James Knightley, ING’s chief international economist.

The new numbers appear amid other signs of recovery in the United States. Retail sales rebounded sharply in May, homeowners appear to be rapidly returning to the property market, and business activity is recovering from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. And the May jobs report found that companies added 2.5 million payrolls from the previous month.

But high jobless claims remain a worrying metric, indicating that the job market may not recover as quickly or as consistently as expected. Last week’s total was only around 60,000 lower than the revised number from the previous week.

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“We were going to hit a plateau last week,” Robert Frick, an economist at the Federal Navy Credit Union, told Business Insider.

Most likely, claims have remained high as the impact of the muted coronavirus-related closings extended beyond the industry’s first hit, leading to second and third waves of layoffs, even when state economies reopened, he said. Now, the growing number of infections in dozens of states has raised concerns about weekly claims.

Going forward, economists and industry watchers will continue to monitor weekly unemployment claim data to assess the recovery in the labor market. Next week, the Labor Department plans to release the June non-farm payroll report, which will provide more information on the state of the recovery as the United States reopens.

Claims filed under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which extended benefits to independent workers and contractors, were 728,120 in the week ending June 20, a decrease from the previous report. The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs, including state and PUA benefits, was 30.5 million unadjusted in the week ending June 6, an increase from the previous week.

Initial unadjusted claims fell approximately 6,000 last week, the smallest decline so far in the coronavirus pandemic.

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