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U.S. jobless claims tick up from near a pandemic low

A hiring sign is placed at a booth for prospective employers during a job fair Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021, in the West Hollywood section of Los Angeles.   (Associated Press )
From staff and wire reports Associated Press

From staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON – The number of Americans applying for unemployment aid rose last week and in Spokane County, but declined in Washington state.

The higher claims in the nation for the second-straight week has some economists worrying the delta variant has disrupted the previous job market’s recovery.

In Spokane County, the number of new jobless claims ticked up only five, from 293 to 298, last week, according to data from the Washington state Department of Employment Security.

Those same numbers declined in the state from 4,860 to 4,850. But the largest decline, some 55.4%, came from continued claims. That was primarily due to expiration of federal pandemic benefits the week ending Sept. 4, according to the ESD.

Nationally, the number of jobless claims climbed by 16,000 last week, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

As the job market has strengthened, unemployment aid applications, which generally track layoffs, have tumbled since topping 900,000 early this year, reflecting the economy’s reopening after the pandemic recession.

The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week swings, registered its sixth straight drop – to a pandemic low of 336,000.

Jobless claims still remain somewhat elevated: Before the virus tore through the economy in March 2020, they generally numbered about 220,000 a week.

In a research report, Contingent Macro Advisors concluded that the recent jump in applications for unemployment benefits – especially so last week in California and Virginia – likely reflected a technical problem in processing the claims.

“For now, the jump in claims in the last two weeks is not yet alarming but it certainly bears close watching in the coming weeks,’’ the report said.

America’s employers have rapidly increased their hiring since they slashed 22 million jobs in March and April 2020 as the pandemic – and the shutdowns meant to contain it – brought economic activity to a near-standstill.Since then, the economy has recovered about 17 million jobs as the rollout of vaccines encouraged businesses to open and expand hours and Americans to go back out to shop, travel and dine out.

But hiring, which has averaged more than 585,000 jobs a month this year, slowed to just 235,000 in August as the delta variant disrupted the recovery.

Restaurants and bars cut nearly 42,000 jobs last month as COVID-19 cases picked up.

Overall, 2.8 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits during the week of Sept. 11, up by 131,000 from the week before.

Earlier this month, more than 8 million people lost all their unemployment benefits with the expiration of two federal programs that covered gig workers and people who have been jobless for more than six months.

Those emergency programs had been created in March of last year to help ease the economic hardship caused by the pandemic.

An additional 2.7 million people who were receiving regular state unemployment aid lost a $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement last week.