US weekly unemployment claims drop for 1st time in 3 weeks

The number of initial unemployment claims in the US fell to 803,000 last week, the first decline in three weeks, the Labour Department reported.

In the week ending December 19, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits decreased by 89,000 from the previous week’s upwardly revised level of 892,000, Xinhua news agency quoted a report released by the Department’s Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) as saying on Thursday.

The decline came after the number rose for two consecutive weeks amid surging coronavirus cases.

The previous week’s figure marked the highest in three months, indicating a disruption of the labour market’s recovery.

In the week ending October 17, the figure dipped below 800,000 for the first time since late March, and has been largely declining in the following weeks, but the trend was reversed in the weeks ending November 14 and November 21, and then in the weeks ending December 5 and December 12.

The BLS report also showed that the number of people continuing to collect regular state unemployment benefits in the week ending December 12 declined by 170,000 to 5.3 million.

However, recipients of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that applies to workers who usually do not qualify for regular state unemployment benefits such as the self-employed and gig workers, rose by 26,556 to 9.27 million in the week ending December 5.

Meanwhile, recipients of the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits for those who exhaust regular state benefits, dropped by 8,178 to reach 4.79 million in the week ending December 5.

The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs — state and federal combined — for the week ending December 5 decreased by 283,170 but remained elevated at 20.36 million, signaling a stalled recovery in the labor market.

Following months of deadlock over the size and scope of the new round of relief package, Democratic and Republican lawmakers finally reached a deal on Sunday.

The House of Representatives and Senate both approved the relief package late Monday, along with $1.4 trillion in government funding for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30, 2021, sending the giant spending bill to the President Donald Trump to sign into law.

However, Trump on Tuesday lashed out at lawmakers over the newly approved $900 billion Covid-19 relief package, threatening not to sign the bill if changes are not made to increase the amount of stimulus checks.

The relief plan includes another round of direct payments for individuals, federal unemployment benefits — both at reduced levels — and more funding for PPP to support small businesses.

It also features more funding for schools, testing and the distribution of vaccines.

The new aid bill will allow people $300 per week in supplements to both regular and special pandemic unemployment benefits through at least March 14, which is half the $600 per week approved in the CARES Act in late March.