As coronavirus hot spots flare across the U.S., adding to economic worries, new jobless claims surpassed one million for the 14th week.
As American businesses reopen in fits and starts — and anxiety over new coronavirus hot spots increases — state unemployment offices still have their hands full.
An additional 728,000 filed for benefits from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded emergency program aimed at covering the self-employed, independent contractors and other workers who don’t qualify for traditional unemployment insurance.
To be sure, the weekly pace of new state filings is a fraction of the more than 6.5 million recorded in early April. As businesses have reopened, some employees have been called back. The total number of people collecting state unemployment insurance for the week ending June 13 was 19.5 million, seasonally adjusted, a decrease of 767,000 from the previous week and down from nearly 25 million in early May.
Despite the drop in continuing claims, “19.5 million is still a very high number to have on unemployment benefits,” said Torsten Slok, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities. In February, before the pandemic arrived in full force, that total stood at two million.
“It’s difficult to argue that this is a real improvement,” he said. “We still have a long, long road ahead of us.” What’s more, the 19.5 million figure doesn’t include over 11 million individuals receiving federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance as of June 6. That means roughly 30 million Americans were receiving some sort of unemployment benefit.
In a separate report Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that durable goods orders rose 15.8 percent in May, well above the 10.5 percent increase that economists had been expecting. Stronger sales of items like cars and washers and dryers are a bullish indicator and hint at the demand for many goods that has built up since the economy effectively shut down in March.
As the latest data suggest, the American economy has been sending conflicting signals. On the one hand, New York and some other places that were hard hit early in the outbreak are starting to get back to business.
But a spike in cases in states that reopened earlier has raised fears of new setbacks. On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said the state “will pause any further phases to open” because of the recent increase in positive tests and hospitalizations. And California and Florida have posted record numbers of new cases in recent days.