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US Jobless Claims Decline To A Still-high 900,000

US Jobless Claims Decline To A Still-high 900,000

Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, lowering claims to 900,000, still a historically high level that points to further job cuts in a raging pandemic.

WASHINGTON: Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, lowering claims to 900,000, still a historically high level that points to further job cuts in a raging pandemic.

The Labor Department’s report Thursday underscored that President Joe Biden has inherited an economy that faltered this winter as virus cases spiked, cold weather restricted dining and federal rescue aid expired. The government said that 5.1 million Americans are continuing to receive state jobless benefits, down from 5.2 million in the previous week. That signals that fewer people who are out of work are finding jobs.

New viral infections have begun to slow after months of relentless increases, though they remain high and are averaging about 200,000 a day. The number of deaths in the United States from the pandemic that erupted 10 months ago has surpassed 400,000.

Economists say one factor that likely increased jobless claims in the past two weeks is a government financial aid package that was signed into law in late December. Among other things, it provided a $300-a-week federal unemployment benefit on top of regular state jobless aid. The new benefit, which runs through mid-March, may be encouraging more Americans to apply for jobless benefits.

Once vaccines become more widely distributed, economists expect growth to accelerate in the second half of the year as Americans unleash pent-up demand for travel, dining out and visiting movie theaters and concert halls. Such spending should, in theory, boost hiring and start to regain the nearly 10 million jobs lost to the pandemic.

But for now, the economy is losing ground. Retail sales have fallen for three straight months. Restrictions on restaurants, bars and some stores, along with a reluctance of most Americans to shop, travel and eat out, have led to sharp spending cutbacks. Revenue at restaurants and bars plunged 21% in 2020.

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