WASHINGTON – Jobless benefit claims eased marginally in the United States last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
The world’s biggest economy is on a path toward recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, but even so, 411,000 newly laid-off workers filed for unemployment compensation last week, down 7,000 from the revised figure of the week before, the agency said.
It was the second straight week that the weekly figure topped 400,000, and the number remains well above the weekly average of less than 300,000 in 2019 before the pandemic swept into the U.S. in March 2020.
State governors and municipal officials have been ending coronavirus restrictions, in many cases allowing businesses for the first time in a year to completely reopen to customers. That could lead to more hiring of workers.
More than 56% of U.S. adults have now been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, boosting the economic recovery, although the pace of inoculations has dropped markedly from its peak several weeks ago.
Officials in many states are now offering a variety of incentives to entice the unvaccinated to get inoculated, including entry into lucrative lotteries for cash and free college tuition. Still, the White House said this week it does not expect that the U.S. will meet President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% of adult Americans with at least one vaccination by the Independence Day holiday on July 4. The figure now stands shy of that at 65.6%.
The U.S. added 559,000 jobs in May, more than twice the 266,000 in April. Still, about 9.3 million people remain unemployed in the U.S., according to the government.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told Congress this week that the U.S. economy continues to show “sustained improvement” with ongoing increases in the number of available jobs. But he voiced concern that the recovery remains uneven, with joblessness hurting lower-wage workers, Blacks and Hispanics the most.
Powell predicted that jobs gains “should pick up in coming months.”
With the business reopenings, many employers are reporting a shortage of workers, particularly for low-wage jobs such as restaurant servers and retail clerks.
Many businesses complain they are unable to find enough applicants for the openings. The jobless rate fell to 5.8% in May, still higher than the 3.5% rate in March 2020 before the pandemic was declared.
The federal government approved sending $300-a-week supplemental unemployment benefits to jobless workers through early September on top of less generous state-by-state payments.
But at least 25 of the 50 states, all led by Republican governors, have started ending participation in the federal payments program, contending that the stipends let workers make more money than they would by returning to work and thus are hurting the recovery by not filling available job openings.
Some economists say, however, other factors prevent people from returning to work, such as lack of child care or fear of contracting the coronavirus.
The economic picture in the U.S. has advanced as money from Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package filters through the economy. The measure has likely boosted consumer spending, as millions of Americans, all but the highest wage earners, are now receiving $1,400 stimulus checks from the government or have already been sent the extra cash.
With more money in their wallets and more people vaccinated, Americans are venturing back to some sense of normalcy, going out to restaurants and spending money on items they had not purchased for a year.
Biden is proposing an additional $4 trillion in government spending on infrastructure repairs and assistance for children and families, but the overall package has been met with stiff resistance from Republicans.
The fate of the proposals in the politically divided Congress remains uncertain, but a group of 10 centrist Republican and Democratic U.S. senators appears to have reached a tentative infrastructure deal with the White House, and Biden is set to discuss it with them on Thursday.
Biden’s other spending proposals remain in limbo.