American workers filed 803,000 applications for jobless benefits last week, an unexpected decrease as the coronavirus kept the labor market under pressure, the feds said Wednesday.
The latest batch of initial jobless claims brought the total reported during the COVID-19 pandemic to about 72.2 million — equivalent to roughly 45 percent of the nation’s workforce.
Jobless filings dropped from the prior week’s revised total of 892,000 despite a deadly surge in infections sparking a new wave of lockdown measures in some states, forcing businesses to shut their doors or scale back operations.
Economists were expecting 880,000 claims for last week, according to Wrightson ICAP.
New claims have nevertheless remained above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 for 10 straight months despite falling sharply from their late March peak of about 6.8 million.
In all, workers claimed nearly 20.4 million weeks’ worth of state and federal unemployment aid in the week ending Dec. 5, down from 20.6 million the prior week, the US Department of Labor data show.
Millions of those workers relying on benefits created by the CARES Act could soon lose them because they’re set to expire at the end of the year. Congress has passed a stimulus bill that would extend such programs and offer a $300 weekly boost to unemployment payments — but President Trump called for changes to the bill on Tuesday, calling it a “disgrace.”
“The relief package provides critical support at a time when labor market conditions are deteriorating amid substantial slack,” said Bloomberg economist Eliza Winger. “But the extension will likely prove insufficient as it will take time for the economy to fully recover.”