Another 900,000 U.S. workers filed for state unemployment benefits last week, a slight drop from the week before and a sign that the labor market’s stalled recovery remains frozen in what one expert called a “winter of discontent.”
The Labor Department stated in a Jan. 21 report (pdf) that the number of people who filed initial state benefit claims fell last week by 26,000 from from the previous week’s revised level of 926,000. Economists polled by Reuters predicted the jobless claims number would come in at 910,000.
“Some 44 weeks into the pandemic caused downturn, unemployment claims remain very much elevated in the latest week,” Bankrate.com senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick said in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times.
Between the new claims drawn from the traditional state-administered programs and the federally funded program for the self-employed, gig workers, and others who don’t qualify for the regular state unemployment benefits, around 1.4 million people filed claims last week.
“Indeed, the notion of a winter of discontent has taken on new and more distressing meaning” in light of the unemployment figures, Hamrick said.
Recent data suggest the labor market recovery has stalled. The economy shed 140,000 jobs in December 2020, the first job losses since April 2020 when authorities throughout the country imposed stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the CCP virus. Retail sales fell for a third straight month in December 2020. Though weekly jobless claims have dropped from a record 6.9 million in March 2020, they remain well above their 665,000 peak during the 2007–09 Great Recession.
Surging COVID-19 infections are disrupting operations at businesses such as restaurants, gyms, and other establishments where crowds tend to gather, reducing hours for many workers and pushing employers to cut staff.
“But hope remains for the period later this year when the economy can begin reopening,” Hamrick said.
Reinforcing hopes for a future rebound, a separate report on Jan. 21 from the Commerce Department said permits for future homebuilding accelerated 4.5 percent to a rate of 1.709 million units in December 2020, the highest since August 2006. Permits typically lead homebuilding starts by 1 to 2 months. At the same time, the report said housing starts jumped 5.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.669 million units last month, the highest level since September 2006.
A third report from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve showed its business conditions index surged to a reading of 26.5 this month from 9.1 in December 2020. It also showed that factory employment measures have also improved.
Reuters contributed to this report.