New US jobless claims almost flat at 840,000
Help wanted sign (AFP Photo/Joe Raedle)

New applications for US jobless benefits were barely changed last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, as the economy continues to struggle in its recovery from the coronavirus shutdowns earlier this year.

There were a 840,000 new claims filed in the week ended October 3, a drop of 9,000 from the previous week's level, which was revised up to 849,000, according to the seasonally adjusted data.

Another 464,437 people, not seasonally adjusted, filed under a special program implemented amid the pandemic for workers who would not normally qualify for aid, a drop of more than 44,000.

However, the level of new weekly claims has yet to drop below the worst single week of the 2008-2010 global financial crisis, and more than 25.2 million people in the United States were receiving some form of government aid in the week ended September 19, according to the data.

And the data remains complicated by California's two-week pause on processing new claims, with the country's most-populous state providing an outdated level that will be revised in future reports.

"We seem stuck on this plateau, which further ensures the overall unemployment rate will fall only slowly from here," Robert Frick of Navy Federal Credit Union said, warning claims could actually increase amid ongoing layoffs from large employers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been negotiating a stimulus package to follow up on the $2.2 trillion CARES Act that could forestall such job losses by providing payroll aid to businesses as well as expanding jobless benefits.

President Donald Trump abruptly called off the talks earlier this week, but has since backpedaled amid an outcry from both parties and business leaders, saying in a Fox Business Network interview on Thursday he saw a "really good" chance of reaching a deal with Democrats in Congress.

Jobless filings spiked after the business shutdowns began in March, but the blow was softened somewhat by since-expired CARES Act provisions giving extra aid to the unemployed as well as loans and grants to small businesses.

As of the week ended September 26, the report showed a 0.7 percentage point decline to 7.5 percent in the insured unemployment rate, which measures those eligible to receive benefits.

However, Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics cautioned that drop may be due to people exhausting their benefits as well as getting hired, and the pause on California data introduces a degree of distortion into the data.

"Employment growth has already slowed, and without fiscal support that protected jobs, risks are skewed to the downside for payrolls going forward," she said.