• Tue. Jul 26th, 2022

Worker claims for jobless aid, a proxy for layoffs, stabilize but remain above pre-pandemic record

Dec 10, 2020

The number of workers seeking unemployment benefits is hovering at a high level nearly nine months into the coronavirus pandemic, as layoffs persist in a slowing labor-market recovery.Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, have slowly declined since dropping below one million a week at the end of August, but in recent weeks have held above 695,000, the record high weekly figure before the pandemic. The trend tracks improvements in the job market as it recovers from the widespread business closures in the springand a recent slowing as the economy continues to face the pandemic.The Labor Department will publish the latest data at 8:30 a.m. ET on Thursday.
Economists, policy makers and investors have viewed jobless claims as a bellwether economic indicator for a half-century. However, the Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog, last month said a high level of claims during the pandemic and problems with temporary pandemic-related aid programs were causing states to provide flawed data for the Labor Department report. The Labor Department said it doesnt plan to change its methodology but would clarify how jobless claims are counted in the weekly jobless-claims report.
The weekly level of claims has held in a historically high range of 700,000 to 800,000 since mid-October, more than three times the pre-pandemic average, but well below the late March peak of nearly seven million.
Job destruction has not come to an end, said
Andy Challenger,
senior vice president at outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. We might be gaining jobs overall, but thousands of people are losing their jobs every week because demand has not returned.
The broader labor-market recovery is continuing, but showed signs of slowing in November. Employers added 245,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said last week. While it was the seventh consecutive month of gains, hiring has cooled. At Novembers rate of job growth, employment wouldnt return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
Mr. Challenger said recent layoffs have occurred in the entertainment and leisure industry, including at restaurants, as well as at retailers and in the transportation sector, at employers including airlines and transit authorities. Many workers laid off this spring expected to return to their jobs fairly quickly. Those laid off in recent weeks are more likely to have seen their position eliminated, Mr. Challenger said.
When someone is let go today, that means the company doesnt see that job existing for a while, he said.
The U.S. economy overall has recovered much of the ground lost earlier this year, but the expansions momentum has eased since the summers swift gains. Consumer spending rose in October for the sixth straight month, though at a slower pace, according to the Commerce Department. The manufacturing and services sectors expanded in November, according to the Institute for Supply Management.
Employment data showed the pace of hiring slowing substantially in November. WSJs Eric Morath breaks down why the labor-market recovery has lost its momentum. Photo: Jeff Chiu/Associated Press (Originally published Dec. 4)
There are ample job openings in several industries, including in the finance, accounting and technology sectors, said
Paul McDonald,
senior executive director at professional staffing firm
Robert Half International Inc.
Were still seeing strong demand, he said. But those with jobs are reluctant to leave. He said some fear they will lose seniority and be at greater risk for a layoff if the economy weakens. While total job loss this year was much higher than in the 2007-2009 recession, the finance sector has been less affected, and many firms are hiring, Mr. McDonald said, to keep up with demand for mortgage refinancing and home and auto loans.
Just more than 20 million workers were receiving unemployment benefits in mid-November, according to the Labor Department. That includes those paid through regular state programs, which provide unemployment insurance covering the vast majority of workers, and two pandemic programs created earlier this year.
Those programsone for gig workers and others not typically eligible for jobless benefits, and another for those who have exhausted eligibility for other programsare set to expire at the end of the year. People in the pandemic programs accounted for most of those receiving benefits last month.
Grace Keros
last month laid off all but four staff members from American Coney Island, a downtown Detroit diner that employed more than 20 workers before the pandemic, after the state of Michigan imposed new restrictions on in-person dining. Ms. Keros, the owner, is now limited to carryout orders and closes the former 24-hour joint as early as 4 p.m.
In March, I had to call the locksmith to help me lock up because I couldnt find the key, she said.
When spring restrictions were lifted, she was able to bring back about half her staff, but sales were down with fewer office workers in the area and no crowds from baseball games or events. Now with winter approaching, and unable to serve diners inside, she is worried about her future, and that of her employees, especially because they wont receive an extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits. Those enhanced benefits ended in July and other federal programs are set to expire this month.
If were going to be told we cant operate, the government needs to get its act together and help these workers, she said.
Write to Eric Morath at eric.morath@wsj.com
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