Initial unemployment claims fall nationally, tick up in Indiana

The number of laid-off Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell to roughly 880,000 last week, a decrease of 130,000 from the previous week’s revised level. Initial claims ticked up slightly in Indiana.

Thursday’s national figure, released by the Labor Department, remained historically high, but marked the lowest number of jobless claims since the viral pandemic first paralyzed the economy in March. But in Thursday’s report, the department tweaked the way it adjusts its calculations to account for seasonal changes, thereby making it difficult to compare last week’s figure with previous figures.

Unadjusted for seasonal variations, though, the numbers show that 833,000 Americans applied for benefits last week, up from 826,000 the week before.

All told, the government said that 13.3 million people are continuing to receive traditional jobless benefits, up from 1.7 million a year ago.

In Indiana, 10,783 people filed initial unemployment claims in the week ended Aug. 29, up from an adjusted number of 10,597 the previous week, an increase of 186, or 1.8%. Prior to the pandemic, the state was typically seeing fewer than 3,000 claims per week.

A total of 162,998 people were receiving unemployment benefits in Indiana as of Aug. 22, the Labor Department said. That was down from 170,341 the previous week.

Thursday’s report also showed that an additional 759,482 people applied for jobless benefits nationally last week under the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for self-employed and gig workers. That was a increase from an adjusted 607,808 the previous week.

Indiana reported 7,643 new applicants for the PUA program in the week ended Aug. 29 after reporting 6,457 new claims the previous week. The state reported 141,404 people were receiving continued PUA aid as of Aug. 15, down from 135,014 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.

On Friday, when the government issues the jobs report for August, it’s expected to report that employers added roughly 1.4 million jobs last month. That would still leave the economy about 13 million jobs short of the number it’s lost to the pandemic.

Still, the auto and housing industries have made solid gains, bolstered by rock-bottom loan rates. American factories, too, have been on the upswing for three straight months. Yet many companies across the spectrum—from small businesses to hotels, restaurants, airlines and entertainment venues—remain deeply hurt by a loss of customers.

A wave of layoff announcements by major companies has heightened concerns that many job losses will end up being permanent. Ford is offering buyouts to try to shrink its U.S. white-collar workforce by 1,400. MGM Resorts is laying off 18,000, about a fourth of its U.S. staff. Coca-Cola, heavily reliant on entertainment venues, is offering buyouts to 4,000.

United and American airlines, hurt by diminished air travel, said they will cut thousands of jobs unless the government provides additional aid to help cover payroll costs. Salesforce is cutting 1,000 jobs, Bed Bath & Beyond 2,800.

Many economists warn that mass layoffs will continue and that any recovery will likely falter as long as the virus rages and Congress doesn’t extend another round of rescue aid for the unemployed and for state and local governments.

The recovery remains fragile because of a still-elevated level of confirmed COVID-19 cases and the government’s failure to enact another emergency rescue package. The recent expiration of a $600-a-week federal jobless benefit has deepened the difficulties for America’s unemployed. The Trump administration is now providing a stripped-down version of that benefit—$300 a week—though not all the unemployed will qualify for it.

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