About 963,000 Americans filed for government jobless benefits in the week up to Aug. 8, a decline of almost a quarter of a million people from the level hit at the end of July and the first time the figure has come in below the million mark since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March.
The Department of Labour said Thursday that the continuing claims figure — which tabulates those who were getting benefits before and continued to do so — fell by more than 600,000 to just over 15.4 million people.
While the lower numbers are encouraging, they should be taken with a grain of salt because they come from the first week after the U.S. government ended a previous program that paid out $600 US to Americans left jobless because of the virus.
That’s the equivalent of $15 an hour for full-time work and is far more generous than the payout now available in most places. On Saturday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that would make the payout $400, but it has yet to be implemented because of ongoing rancour in Washington.
So the lower number could be partly a result of fewer people filing because of the lower payout, not because they have found work. As Bank of Montreal economist Jennifer Lee put it, “Maybe there were more jobs available [or] maybe it was due to the expiration of the top-up in unemployment benefits.”
While a figure under 1 million is encouraging, it is still the 20th week in a row in which the jobless figure is higher than the previous record high of 650,000 hit back in the financial crisis in 2009. The new claims figure peaked in the fourth week of March at 6.8 million. In January, the figure started the year at 212,000.