First-time applications for unemployment benefits dropped slightly last week but remained elevated, underscoring the sluggish improvement of the US labour market as it recovers amid the pandemic.
According to data from the US labor department, initial jobless claims filed under the regular state benefit system fell to 840,000 — higher than the 820,000 new applications predicted by economists.
Applications for pandemic-related emergency federal jobless aid, which helps workers not eligible for traditional benefits, fell to 464,000 over the week, bringing the total number of Americans newly seeking unemployment assistance to 1.3m.
The previous week’s figures were 849,000 for regular benefits and 509,000 for emergency aid.
The latest figures were released amid growing concerns that the progress made in the US labour market since the economic trough in April is at risk of stalling, with coronavirus still spreading and fiscal stimulus fading. In September, the US economy created 661,000 jobs, a far slower pace than in the months between May and August. Just short of half the 22.2m jobs lost during the coronavirus crisis have been recovered.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Congress agreed to provide $600 per week to unemployed workers to mitigate the impact of mass joblessness. But those benefits expired at the end of July, leaving many struggling households scrambling to pay for essential needs.
Trump administration officials and Democrats in Congress have been discussing a renewal of the benefits as part of a broader additional stimulus package, but Donald Trump, the US president, abruptly pulled out of the negotiations this week.
According to the latest labour department data, the total number of people claiming jobless benefits under all programmes was 25.5m.