The surge in unemployment filings last March provided one of the first clear warnings of the havoc the pandemic was wreaking on the American economy.
One year later, that klaxon is still blaring.
Data from the Labor Department on Thursday morning is expected to show that more than 700,000 people filed first-time applications for state unemployment benefits last week. Hundreds of thousands more probably filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency federal program that covers freelancers, self-employed workers and others who don’t qualify for benefits in normal times.
Last week was the 52nd straight with elevated filings. In one week last March, applications jumped tenfold, from fewer than 300,000 to about three million. A week later, they topped six million, as businesses across the country shut down.
The figures have fallen significantly since then but remain higher than in any previous recession, at least by some measures. And progress has stalled: Initial weekly claims under regular and emergency programs, combined, have been stuck at just above one million since last fall.
“It goes up a little bit, it goes down, but really we haven’t seen much progress,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist for the career site Indeed. “A year into this, I’m starting to wonder: What is it going to take to fix the magnitude problem? How is this going to actually end?”
Most forecasters expect the labor market recovery to accelerate in coming months, as warmer weather and rising vaccination rates allow more businesses to reopen, and as new government aid encourages Americans to go out and spend. Policymakers at the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that they expected the unemployment rate to fall to 4.5 percent by the end of the year, a significant improvement from the 5 percent they forecast three months ago.
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