Initial unemployment claims decline nationally, in Indiana

Fewer Americans than expected sought unemployment benefits last week, as the slow labor-market recovery grinds as businesses contend with an increase in coronavirus cases. Indiana also saw a decline in initial unemployment claims.

Initial jobless claims in regular state programs decreased by 36,000, to 837,000, in the week ended Sept. 26, Labor Department figures showed Thursday. Continuing claims, the total pool of Americans on state benefit rolls, fell to 11.8 million in the week ended Sept. 19.

Economists expected initial claims to fall to 850,000 and for continuing claims of 12.2 million, according to median estimates in a Bloomberg survey.

Filings for U.S. unemployment benefits remain below 1 million for fifth week.

In Indiana, 10,742 people filed initial unemployment claims in the week ended Sept. 26, down from an adjusted number of 11,702 the previous week, a decrease of 960, or 8.9%. Prior to the pandemic, the state was typically seeing fewer than 3,000 claims per week.

A total of 147,161 people were receiving unemployment benefits in Indiana as of Sept. 19, the Labor Department said. That was down from 161,143 the previous week.

Thursday’s report also showed that an additional 650,120 people applied for jobless benefits nationally last week under the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for self-employed and gig workers. That was increase from an adjusted 615,599 the previous week.

Indiana reported 11,675 new applicants for the PUA program in the week ended Sept. 26 after reporting 11,987 new claims the previous week. The state reported 261,488 people were receiving continued PUA aid as of Sept. 12, down from 285,110 the prior week.

PUA provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits. Those include the self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers and workers for certain religious entities.

The national report came with a key caveat: the figures from California, the most populous state, used the prior week’s numbers because the state suspended acceptance of new applications for two weeks starting Sept. 20 to improve its systems and cope with a backlog of filings.

While the latest claims numbers reflected gradual labor-market improvement, the figures remain well above pre-virus levels. Other reports suggest risks are mounting for the economy, and lawmakers have yet to reach a deal on renewing fiscal stimulus.

A separate report Thursday showed Americans’ incomes fell in August by the most in three months after the government’s supplemental unemployment benefits expired, threatening to temper consumer spending.

U.S. airlines are starting to lay off more than 30,000 workers unless they get additional federal aid. In addition, several major companies announced tens of thousands in job cuts this week, including Walt Disney Co., Allstate Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is embarking on a plan to eliminate roughly 400 positions as the coronavirus pandemic outlasts the financial industry’s resolve to offer jittery employees stability.

The flood of news also suggests that management-level and salaried employees are increasingly at risk, after initial rounds of losses across industries that hit lower-level and hourly workers harder. Outside of big companies, Yelp Inc. data show more than 97,000 small businesses across the U.S. have shut for good since March 1.

The government’s monthly jobs report on Friday, the last before November’s presidential election, is set to show job gains moderated further in September, with forecasts for payrolls to rise by about 872,000 and unemployment dropping slightly, to 8.2%. That report reflects the period covering the second half of August and first half of September.

Florida, Texas and Georgia led the drop in initial state claims on an unadjusted basis. States with a rise in filings included Maryland, New Jersey and Illinois.

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