Fewer Americans filing for unemployment aid

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Fewer Americans applied for jobless aid last week, although the number remained above 1 million. Nearly 1.2 million people applied for unemployment benefits in the week ended August 1, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s a drop from 1.4 million the previous week.

An additional 655,000 people applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a new federal program for self-employed and gig workers. That figure fell by 250,000 from the previous week.

Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics called the latest numbers “a move in the right direction as jobless claims fell last week.”

The latest unemployment-claims figures mark the first time since March that the total number of jobless aid applicants fell below 2 million. Still, they demonstrate the depth of the contraction that the coronavirus engendered.

The pandemic, the lockdowns meant to contain it, and the wariness of many Americans to venture back out to eat, shop or travel have delivered a devastating blow to the U.S. economy.

All told, 31 million people, or one-fifth of the labor force, are collecting some sort of unemployment benefits. That includes 17 million on traditional unemployment benefits and 13 million who are collecting benefits for the self-employed.

For months, unemployed people had also been receiving $600 a week in federal jobless aid on top of their state benefit. But the federal payment expired last week. Congress is engaged in prolonged negotiations over renewing the federal benefit, which would likely be extended at a reduced level, according to The Associated Press.

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