The United States economic recovery appears to have stalled, as new claims for unemployment benefits held relatively steady for a second week in a row.
According to the Department of Labor, just over 1 million workers filed jobless claims on a seasonally adjusted basis in the week ended Aug. 22, a decrease of 98,000 from the previous week’s revised level. That number was in line with economists’ expectations.
The data also showed that continuing claims, which paints a broader picture of joblessness in the country and lags jobless data by one week, remained high at 14.5 million.
In early August, claims fell below 1 million for the first time since the coronavirus shut down the U.S. economy, leading many to hope that the country was at the beginning of an upswing. However, the numbers ticked back up to 1.1 million the following week and have since held steady, signaling that the road to a recovery could be long — particularly if Congress cannot come to an agreement on another round of economic stimulus.
In recent weeks, states have begun to step in to provide additional benefits to unemployed Americans, through the “Low Wage Assistance” grants offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The grants were initiated by President Donald Trump through one of his executive orders in early August, which allocated $44 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to aid those who have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
As of press time, 32 states had been approved for FEMA grants, and more have signaled they are filing applications. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced yesterday that his state will opt in to the program — and with good reason: New Jersey had the highest increase in new jobless claims of any state during the week of Aug. 15, at 11,580.
The states with the highest rates for unemployment insurance as of Aug. 8 were Hawaii (19.8%), Puerto Rico (19.2%), Nevada (17.3%) and California (16.1%).
As part of the LWA, the federal government will pay $300 per week on top of an individual’s regular unemployment benefit, with the states agreeing to provide another $100, for a total of $400 per week. The program was slated to apply to unemployment applications for the weeks of Aug. 1 through Dec. 27. However, the Department of Labor warned that the grants could end earlier if FEMA expends its $44 billion budget, or if Congress enacts legislation providing a longer-term solution.
The country’s efforts in recent months to get the economy fully up and running have come up against several obstacles, including severe COVID-19 outbreaks in the southern and western states, which have caused some businesses to temporarily close their doors once again. Additionally, the process for reopening schools — a move that many government officials hoped would ease the burden on working parents — has faced big setbacks amid the ongoing health crisis.