1.9 million seek jobless aid even as reopenings slow layoffs

Coronavirus

A man walks by a closed store during the COVID-19 in Chicago, Thursday, April 30, 2020. Another 3.8 million people filed claims for jobless benefits last week, according to the Labor Department. While that’s down from the previous week’s 4.4 million, a staggering 30.3 million have applied for unemployment in the six weeks since the coronavirus began taking a wrecking ball to the U.S. job market. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 1.9 million people applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, the ninth straight decline since applications spiked in mid-March, a sign that the gradual reopening of businesses has slowed the loss of jobs.

The diminishing pace suggests that the job market meltdown that was triggered by the coronavirus may have bottomed out as more companies call at least some of their former employees back to work.

The total number of people who are now receiving jobless aid rose only slightly to 21.5 million, suggesting that rehiring is offsetting some of the ongoing layoffs.

Though applications for benefits are slowing, the latest weekly number is still more than double the record high that prevailed before the viral outbreak. It shows that there are limits to how much a partial reopening of the economy can restore a depressed job market mired in a recession.

With all states in the process of gradually reopening for business, more consumers are starting to return to restaurants, stores and hair salons. That trend has boosted consumer spending from exceedingly low levels and has likely encouraged some companies to hire again.

In addition to the laid-off employees who applied for benefits last week, 623,000 others sought jobless aid under a new program for self-employed and gig workers, who now qualify for unemployment benefits for the first time. These figures aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations, so the government doesn’t include them in the overall data.

The figures come one day before the government’s jobs report for May is expected to show that employers slashed 8 million jobs last month and that the unemployment rate jumped from 14.7% to 19.8%. If those forecasts prove accurate, it would mean that nearly 30 million people have lost jobs since the viral outbreak intensified in March and that joblessness has reached its highest point since the Great Depression.

Since mid-March, 42.7 million people have applied for unemployment benefits. Not all of them are still unemployed, though. Some have since been rehired. And some laid-off people, it turns out, filed duplicate applications for benefits as they struggled with unresponsive state unemployment systems.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story is below:

The U.S. government is set to issue its latest report Thursday on the layoffs that have left millions unemployed but have steadily slowed as many businesses have begun to reopen and to rehire some laid-off workers.

The pace of job cuts has been declining over the past two months after the coronavirus had struck hard in March, forced widespread business closures and sent the economy into a deep recession. The dwindling pace of jobless claims suggests that the devastation in the job market may have bottomed out. Still, by historical standards the number of weekly applications remains high.

On Friday, the government is expected to report that the economy lost 8 million jobs in May, on top of 20 million lost in April. Unemployment could near 20%.

The job cuts reflect an economy that was seized by the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Most economists foresee unemployment remaining in double digits through the November elections and into 2021.

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