1.5M more Amer­i­cans file for jobless aid, La­bor says

Orlando Sentinel - - Business - By Christo­pher Ru­gaber

WASHINGTON — About 1.5 million laid-off work­ers ap­plied for U.S. unemployme­nt ben­e­fits last week, ev­i­dence that many Amer­i­cans are still los­ing their jobs even as the econ­omy ap­pears to be slowly re­cov­er­ing with more busi­nesses par­tially re­open­ing.

The lat­est fig­ures from the La­bor Depart­ment marked the 10th con­sec­u­tive weekly de­cline in ap­pli­ca­tions for jobless aid since they peaked in mid-March when the coro­n­avirus hit hard. Still, the pace of lay­offs re­mains his­tor­i­cally high.

The to­tal num­ber of peo­ple who are re­ceiv­ing unemployme­nt aid fell slightly, a sign that some peo­ple who were laid off when busi­nesses shut down have been re­called to work.

The fig­ures are “con­sis­tent with a la­bor mar­ket that has be­gun what will be a slow and dif­fi­cult heal­ing process,” said Nancy Van­den Houten, an econ­o­mist at Ox­ford Eco­nom­ics. “Still, ini­tial jobless claims re­main at lev­els that at the start of the year might have seemed un­think­able.”

Last week’s jobs re­port showed that em­ploy­ers added 2.5 million jobs in May, an un­ex­pected in­crease that sug­gested that the job mar­ket has bot­tomed out.

But the re­cov­ery has be­gun slowly. Though the unemployme­nt rate de­clined from 14.7%, it is still a high 13.3%. And even with the May hir­ing gain, just 1 in 9 jobs that were lost in March and April have re­turned. Nearly 21 million peo­ple are clas­si­fied as un­em­ployed.

Even those fig­ures don’t cap­ture the full scope of the dam­age to the job mar­ket. In­clud­ing peo­ple the gov­ern­ment said had been er­ro­neously cat­e­go­rized as em­ployed in the May jobs re­port and those who lost jobs but didn’t look for new ones, 32.5 million peo­ple are out of work, economists es­ti­mate. That would have raised May’s unemployme­nt rate to 19.7%.

Thurs­day’s re­port also shows that an ad­di­tional 706,000 peo­ple ap­plied for jobless ben­e­fits last week un­der a new pro­gram for self-em­ployed and gig work­ers that made them el­i­gi­ble for aid for the first time. These fig­ures aren’t ad­justed for sea­sonal vari­a­tions, so the gov­ern­ment doesn’t in­clude them in the of­fi­cial count.

The weekly re­ports on ap­pli­ca­tions for unemployme­nt ben­e­fits track lay­offs. But they don’t di­rectly ac­count for hir­ing. The sur­prise job gain in May sug­gests that some em­ploy­ers are re­call­ing laid-off work­ers.

Pri­vate real-time data also points to steady, if mod­est, re­hir­ing. Data from Kronos, whose soft­ware tracks work­ers’ hours, shows that the num­ber of shifts worked has re­cov­ered steadily since bot­tom­ing in mid-April. Shifts worked have risen 25% since then, re­cov­er­ing nearly half the work that was lost to the pan­demic-in­duced busi­ness shut­downs.

“The growth in shifts worked in­di­cates that fur­loughed em­ploy­ees are be­ing called back to work as each state opens up,” said Dave Gil­bert­son, a Kronos ex­ec­u­tive.

Twenty-four states re­ported a rise in ap­pli­ca­tions for jobless aid last week, up from four the week be­fore. Cal­i­for­nia, Mas­sachusetts and New York re­ported sharp in­creases. Florida, Ge­or­gia and Texas re­ported large de­clines.

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