American employers continue to shed workers at a staggering rate as a resurgent coronavirus and the absence of new federal aid take a toll on economic growth.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that 885,000 Americans filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week, an increase from the previous week. That figure is not adjusted for seasonal variations.
After dropping in late spring and early summer as pandemic-related lockdowns eased, new claims for state jobless benefits had been steadily totaling about 800,000 a week, far above the level in previous recessions.
“The numbers are extremely worrisome, in my opinion, and they point to a labor market that is struggling to make progress,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.
Over the past month, large employers including United Airlines, Disney and Allstate announced tens of thousands of layoffs, and more are expected as sectors like leisure and hospitality struggle. In some states, restaurants have salvaged some business by serving diners outside, but many will lose that option as temperatures fall.
Despite the widespread economic pain, Republicans and Democrats in Washington have been unable to agree on a new relief package, a failure that may cause the economy to slow further in the coming months. Federal benefits created in March to supplement state payments to the unemployed are set to expire by the end of the year.
A jump in coronavirus cases in the Midwest and Western states has stirred fears of renewed lockdowns even as layoffs by large employers batter the work force.
“The course of the virus determines the course of the economy,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton. “You can’t fully reopen with the contagion so high.”