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Layoffs remain high as jobless claims reach 898,000

By Christopher Rugaber

AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week by the most in two months, to 898,000, a historically high number and evidence that layoffs remain a hindrance to the economy’s recovery from the pandemic recession.

Thursday’s report from the Labor Department coincides with other recent data that have signaled a slowdown in hiring. The economy is still roughly 10.7 million jobs short of recovering all the 22 million jobs that were lost when the pandemic struck in early spring.

Confirmed coronavirus cases have been rising again nationwide in the past month, likely causing more Americans to hold back from eating out, shopping and engaging in other commerce. Cases have spiked in Wisconsin, for example, prompting renewed restrictions on business in Milwaukee and Madison.

Across the country, applications for unemployment aid are rising while negotiations over a new stimulus package between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin remain mired in a stalemate.

The job search website Indeed said its job postings were unchanged  last week, remaining about 17% below last year’s levels. Many employers still aren’t confident enough in their businesses or in their view of the economy to ramp up hiring. Job postings had rebounded steadily over the summer, but the gains have slowed in the past two months.

“Further recovery looks to have stalled out,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at Indeed. “Holiday hiring is sluggish, and many businesses need to make significant changes to ride out the colder months.”

California, which typically accounts for about one-fourth of the nation’s jobless aid applications, has reported the same number of claims for several weeks as a placeholder. That’s because it temporarily stopped processing new applications while it implements anti-fraud technology and clears a backlog of claims.

That means jobless claims rose nationally last week even though they were unchanged in the largest state. Applications rose significantly in 17 states, including Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana and Massachusetts. In Wisconsin, they increased by a quarter to nearly 15,000.

Fraud and issues around double-counting claims have caused many economists to take a more skeptical view of whether jobless aid applications are a precise barometer of layoffs. But most still see an increase in claims as a discouraging sign even if the level may be inflated by people who have filed multiple applications for different programs.

A report  Thursday from Moody’s Analytics, a forecasting firm, and Morning Consult, a polling outfit, found that millions of people remain dependent on government aid. Roughly half of respondents in a survey last month said they were still using the first $1,200 stimulus checks to pay for expenses.

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