The number of people initiating claims for unemployment insurance rose very slightly last week, marking the first increase since mid-July and stalling momentum in the job market recovery.
Initial claims for benefits increased to 353,000 in the week through Aug. 21, up 4,000 from the previous week’s revised level and roughly in line with what economists expected, according to seasonally adjusted data released Thursday by the Labor Department. These figures don’t reflect two pandemic-era programs that are set to expire on Sept. 6—programs that pay benefits to more people and for longer than they would typically.
Weekly volumes are still about 100,000 higher than before the pandemic, though far smaller than the 750,000-900,000 range seen for much of the last year. The recovery picked up steam in the spring, but has stalled once again. Job growth has mirrored this pattern, recovering in fits and starts over the last year. Nearly a million people joined U.S. payrolls in July, the most in almost a year, and there were a record number of open positions as of the latest data at the end of June.
While ending the federal pandemic-era expansion of unemployment insurance next month, including a $300-a-week supplement to regular state benefits, could arguably raise employment levels, any increases would likely be overshadowed by the proliferation of the delta variant of the coronavirus, wrote Nancy Vanden Houten, lead economist at Oxford Economics, in a commentary Thursday. A rise in virus cases, in particular, could exacerbate issues that have kept people from returning to work—like lack of access to child care, economists said.
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