The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits edged higher last week to 7,45,000, a sign that many employers continue to cut jobs despite a drop in confirmed viral infections and evidence that the overall economy is improving. Thursday's report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims rose by 9,000 from the previous week. Though the pace of layoffs has eased since the year began, they remain high by historical standards.
Before the virus flattened the US economy a year ago, applications for unemployment aid had never topped 700,000 in any week, even during the Great Recession. All told, 4.3 million Americans are receiving traditional state unemployment benefits. Counting supplemental federal unemployment programs that were established to soften the economic damage from the virus, an estimated 18 million people are collecting some form of jobless aid.
Restrictions on businesses and the reluctance of many Americans to shop, travel, dine out or attend mass events have weighed persistently on the job market. Job growth averaged a meager 29,000 a month from November through January, and the nation still has nearly 10 million fewer jobs than it did in February 2020. Though the unemployment rate was 6.3 per cent in January, a broader measure that includes people who have given up on their job searches is closer to 10 per cent.