American employers continue to cut jobs at rates that dwarf the pace of layoffs in past decades, even as the economy crawls forward from the coronavirus-induced recession that began last spring.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that 787,000 Americans filed for state unemployment benefits for the first time last week, a decline from the previous week’s total of 827,000. These figures, unadjusted for seasonal variations, are roughly four times the weekly tally of claims from before the pandemic.
But the totals did not reflect a fresh report from California, where officials have halted claims processing for two weeks to clear a backlog and deal with fraud. Instead, the Labor Department used the most recent weekly figure available.
With seasonal adjustments, last week’s national figure was 837,000.
Applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency federal program aimed at independent contractors, gig workers and part-time employees, totaled 650,000.
As bad as the numbers look compared with the start of the year, they are much improved from early spring, when fired and furloughed workers sought out benefits by the millions each week. Still, the totals offer little indication of a strengthening labor market.
“It’s unclear how many companies can sustain themselves and retain payrolls that support incomes,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist for High Frequency Economics. “A solid rebound in job growth is now looking more muted.”
Large and small companies alike continue to let workers go. Disney, whose theme parks in Florida and California have been hard hit by a shortage of visitors, said Tuesday that it would lay off 28,000 workers.
And with the end of a $600 federal weekly supplement to unemployment benefits in July, consumers have less to spend at businesses struggling to stay open, like restaurants, bars and retail stores.
Many economists said another round of federal stimulus could ease the situation, but Democrats and Republicans in Congress haven’t been able to agree on a package.
“Clearly there has been a moderation in the rate of improvement from the early stages,” said Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America. “As we get further away from the initial shock, we have less of a natural catch-up, and we face more residual damage.”
Tens of thousands of airline workers were furloughed starting Thursday after a widely supported effort to renew federal stimulus funding for the industry failed to overcome a congressional stalemate.
American Airlines and United Airlines told employees on Wednesday night that they would proceed with more than 32,000 furloughs, though both companies said they would reverse course if lawmakers provided the funding the industry had sought.
“I am extremely sorry we have reached this outcome,” Doug Parker, American’s chief executive, said in a letter to staff. “It is not what you all deserve.”
Passenger airlines received $25 billion in payroll funding under the March stimulus law known as the CARES Act, on the condition that they refrained from broad job cuts until Oct. 1. Unions representing airline workers had garnered bipartisan support in Congress for another round of aid in recent weeks, but the effort was caught in the deadlock over a broader stimulus package, even after airline executives pleaded their case in Washington.
The pandemic’s toll on air travel and the industry has been so severe that tens of thousands of airline employees have already volunteered to take pay cuts, unpaid leave for an extended period, buyouts or early retirement.