Rising layoffs drive US weekly unemployment claims

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to 770,000, a sign that layoffs remain high even as much of the U.S. economy is steadily recovering from the coronavirus recession.

This morning’s report from the Labor Department showed jobless claims climbed from 725,000 the week before. The numbers have dropped sharply since the depths of the recession last spring but still show that employers in some industries continue to lay off workers. Before the pandemic struck, applications for unemployment aid had never topped 700,000 in any one week.

The four-week average of claims, which smooths out weekly variations, dropped to 746,000, the lowest since late November.

A total of 4.1 million people are continuing to collect traditional state unemployment benefits, down 18,000 from the previous week. Including separate federal programs that are intended to help workers displaced by the health crisis, 18.2 million Americans were receiving some form of jobless aid in the week of Feb. 27, down by 1.9 million from the week before.

The continuing layoffs are occurring even as the overall job market has shown solid improvement. Last month, U.S. employers added a robust 379,000 jobs, the most since October and a sign that the economy is strengthening as consumers spend more and states and cities ease business restrictions.

With vaccinations accelerating, hopes are rising that Americans will increasingly travel, shop, eat out and spend freely after a year of virus-induced restraint.

President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package is also expected to help accelerate growth, especially with most adults this week receiving $1,400 stimulus checks that should fuel more spending. An extension of $300 weekly unemployment benefits into early September will provide support, too, along with money for vaccines and treatments, school reopenings, state and local governments and ailing industries ranging from airlines to concert halls. Read the full story.