For the first time since mid-March, the number of American workers who filed for unemployment fell below 1 million.
According to the Department of Labor, about 963,000 people submitted initial jobless claims in the week ended Aug. 8 — a decrease of 228,000 from the previous week’s revised level. It marked the lowest total of first-time applications since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the United States economy and the first time in five months that fewer than a million sought insurance benefits.
The data also showed that continuing claims, which paints a broader picture of joblessness in the country and lags jobless data by one week, declined 604,000 to 15.5 million.
The report comes a week after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that American employers added nearly 1.8 million jobs last month despite a spike in COVID-19 cases across the country and renewed restrictions that led businesses to shut down once again.
However, joblessness still remains at historically high levels: Although the unemployment rate fell to 10.2%, it remains above the high of 10% that was reached during the Great Recession in October 2009. Counting the latest tally, more than 56.2 million people in the U.S. applied for government aid over the course of just 21 weeks.
Over the past few months, many employers facing cash shortfalls amid widespread closures resorted to mass furloughs or layoffs to keep their businesses afloat. Although state and local officials have largely moved forward with their reopening plans, a surge in new COVID-19 infections — particularly in the South, West and parts of the Midwest — have resulted in reinforced restrictions. In certain areas, stores and offices that had just begun to rehire their workers shut down once again, pushing more Americans back to unemployment.
What’s more, the crucial $600 in additional weekly unemployment benefits — part of the CARES Act signed into law in late March — expired at the end of July. Over the weekend, President Donald Trump signed executive orders addressing unemployment benefits, an extension of the federal moratorium on evictions, a payroll tax holiday and the deferment of student loan payments through 2020. Missing, however, was an action on a second stimulus check to provide another round of $1,200 in direct payments to financially vulnerable Americans.
Congressional talks regarding a second stimulus package are under way, and top government officials have previously stressed that Trump still supports the checks.
“The president would love to see the direct payments to Americans,” said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany in a press briefing on Monday. “There are several items that we’d like to see happen. The more relief for the American people — and those in need, in particular — the better.”