Jobless Claims Hit Lowest Weekly Total Since Coronavirus Swept the US — But There’s a Catch

The number of Americans who sought unemployment benefits fell to its lowest weekly total last week since the coronavirus pandemic swept the United States — but there’s a caveat.

According to the Labor Department, first-time jobless claims for the week ended Aug. 29 fell by 130,000 to 881,000 — only the second time it came in below a million amid the COVID-19 health crisis. (Economists were calling for 950,000 applications.) What’s more, continuing claims, which paints a broader picture of unemployment in the country and lags jobless data by one week, dropped by 1.24 million to 13.25 million.

However, those totals were not revised. In the report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics staff shared that it has changed the way it accounts for seasonal fluctuation in the labor market. Under the new methodology, the agency expects the data to be more accurate in the weeks to come, which could mean today’s numbers may be revised higher or lower.

Since mid-March, more than 59 million Americans have submitted jobless claims. For the week ended Aug. 8, the government recorded fewer than a million such claims — about 963,000 — for the first time in five months, leading many to hope that the country was at the beginning of an upswing. However, the numbers reversed course and held steady for a couple weeks, signaling that the road to a recovery could be long — particularly if Congress cannot come to an agreement on another sweeping stimulus plan.

In recent weeks, states have begun to step in to provide additional benefits to unemployed Americans through “Low Wage Assistance” grants offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The grants, which were initiated by President Donald Trump through one of his executive orders in early August, allocated $44 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to aid those who have lost their jobs as a result of the outbreak.

In recent months, the U.S.’s efforts to get the economy fully up and running have encountered several hurdles, including a surge in COVID-19 infections in a number of southern and western states, which have caused local governments to reinforce lockdowns and restrictions on nonessential businesses. This has forced a slew of stores and offices to temporarily shutter their doors once again and push more workers back to unemployment.

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