Unemployment claims are falling. But 1.3 million still applied for assistance last week

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The entrance to the Labor Department is seen near the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Millions of American jobs have come back since the great lockdown in March and April, but millions of workers still need government benefits to make ends meet.

Another 1.3 million people filed first-time claims for unemployment aid last week, according to the Department of Labor.

Weekly jobless claims have been falling for more than three months since their peak in the last week of March. That’s a good sign, because it means fewer people are finding themselves newly in need for benefits. But the claims remain stubbornly high and aren’t trending downward as quickly as economists would like.

Weekly claims were never in the ballpark of one million before the pandemic.

Continued claims, which count workers who have filed claims for at least two weeks in a row, stood at 18.1 million.

Economists have shifted their focus to continued claims earlier this summer, saying it’s a better indicator of how many people are returning to work versus staying on benefits. But again the number is trending down slowly, and that doesn’t bode well for the economic recovery.

On top of that, many states have paused their economic reopening schedules following a rise in Covid-19 infections. That might keep people at home for longer, when they would have otherwise returned to work in later reopening phases.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s latest CFO survey found that the average surveyed business didn’t expect to get back to its pre-pandemic employment level until the end of 2021.

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