Coronavirus & Unemployment: Weekly Jobless Claims Higher Than Expected at 884,000

People wait in line to file for unemployment following amid an outbreak of the coronavirus at an Arkansas Workforce Center in Fort Smith, Ark., April 6, 2020.  (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

The labor market’s recovery slowed this week as 884,000 Americans applied for unemployment benefits, a number higher than most experts had expected. 

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones predicted 850,000 first-time filings for the week. Instead, last week’s filings were unchanged from the prior seven days.

The week’s filings still sit well above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 claims in a single week and the Great Recession’s high of 665,000, showing the ongoing economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, even as the virus has waned in many areas nationwide.

The majority of the claims, 840,000, were made through the Pandemic Unemployyment Assistance (PUA) program, which is mainly utilized by the self-employed and gig-workers, suggesting those without employers to fall back on are struggling with a decrease in consumer demand for their services.

Continuing claims, a measure of ongoing joblessness with a one-week lag, grew to roughly 13.39 million in the week ending August 29 from about 13.29 million the week before. 

The new data comes one week after a new jobs report showed the economy added 1.4 million jobs in August, a slow down from the 1.7 million added in July. The report showed the unemployment rate falling to 8.4 percent from a high of 14.7 percent in April. 

This week’s jobless numbers are only directly comparable to the week prior as the Labor Department changed its methodology in how it seasonally adjusts the numbers from earlier in the pandemic. Claims not adjusted for seasonal factors totaled 857,148, an increase of 20,140 from the previous week.

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