US jobs
Sign of the times... US businesses are not in in a mood to hire, and those that do are clear they only want to take on short-term. Image Credit: Agency

Washington: The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week, but remained significantly high, suggesting the labor market was stalling as the country battles a resurgence in new COVID-19 cases that is threatening a budding economic recovery.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits totaled a seasonally adjusted 1.186 million for the week ended August 1, compared to 1.435 million in the prior week, the Labor Department said.

Read More

Coronavirus cases soared across the country last month, forcing authorities in some of the hard-hit areas in the west and south to either shut down businesses again or pause reopenings, sending workers back home again. Though infections have eased about 5 per cent nationally, they jumped last week in Oklahoma, Montana, Missouri and 17 other states.

The public health crisis is hurting demand for goods and services, broadening layoffs to sectors of the economy that were not initially impacted when nonessential businesses like restaurants and bars were shuttered in mid-March to slow the spread of the respiratory illness. Businesses are also cautious about hiring.

All-round job contraction

Reports this week showed a sharp step-down in private payrolls in July. Measures of employment at manufacturing and services industries contracted further last month.

Claims peaked at a record 6.867 million in late March. Some economists expect claims to fall in the coming weeks following the end of a $600 weekly unemployment benefits supplement last Friday. Industry groups said the supplement was encouraging furloughed and unemployed workers not to return to their jobs.

Other economists, however, expected claims to remain elevated because of weak demand and the expiration of the government's Paycheck Protection Programme that gave businesses loans that can be partially forgiven if used for employee pay.

Thursday's claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid totaled 16.107 million in the week ending July 25, from 16.951 million in the prior week.