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New US jobless benefit claims slow to 2.43m in latest week

21 May 2020 / 23:14 H.

WASHINGTON: Another 2.43 million US workers were put out of work last week amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to government data today, bringing the total since mid-March to a massive 38.6 million.

The Labor Department data on new first-time claims for unemployment benefits for the week ended May 16 showed the rate of new filings continued to slow in the second month of the nationwide lockdowns, but the job losses remained among the highest on record.

The figure was in line with analysts' forecasts, and brings the average in new claims over the last four weeks to 3,042,000, seasonally adjusted, while the number of people actually receiving benefits – usually lower as applicants take time to be approved – 25,073,000 as of May 9, the Labor Department said.

The report, which tallies up claims filed in state programmes, now also includes the raw total for benefits under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance which hit 2.22 million, not seasonally adjusted.

That programme is aimed at workers like contractors and self-employed people who would not normally qualify for traditional benefits – indicating the weekly job losses may be closer to 4.7 million.

Initial claims appeared to have passed their peak hit in late March, and the latest figure is down 249,000 from the nearly 2.7 million claims file in the week ended May 9.

"The dramatic spike in unemployment claims is trending down, but it still completely overshadows any precedent," Kate Bahn, director of Labor Market Policy at the Center for Equitable Growth, said on Twitter.

Yet the weekly totals remain well above any seen in a single week during the global financial crisis 12 years ago, and more comparable to the Great Depression, as the pandemic forced businesses nationwide to shut down and lay off workers.

"The states may be opening back up, but the labour market is still closed for millions across America and the loss of the income and spending of those without jobs will be a considerable headwind for this economic recovery," said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. – AFP, Reuters

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