WASHINGTON (AP) – The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose last week to 332,000 from a pandemic low, a sign that worsening COVID infections may have slightly increased layoffs.
Applications for unemployment benefits rose from 312,000 the week before, the Ministry of Labor announced on Thursday. Unemployment demands, which generally follow the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily for two months as many employers struggling to fill jobs have stuck with their workers. Two weeks ago, unemployment claims reached their lowest level since March 2020.
The increase was small and may be temporary. The average of four weeks of unemployment claims, which smooths out fluctuations in the weekly data, fell for the fifth week in a row to just under 336,000, the lowest since the pandemic began.
Separately reported the Ministry of Commerce that retail sales unexpectedly rose 0.7% last month, a sign that Americans continued to use despite the rise in coronavirus cases. But how they spent is still being changed by the pandemic. Online shopping jumped in August, but spending on restaurants, bars and other businesses that depend on crowds seems to have gone into an attitude pattern.
Applications for unemployment benefits rose 4,000 in Louisiana, proof that Hurricane Ida led to widespread job losses in that state. Ida is likely to crush the growth of the economy in the current quarter July-September, although repairs and reconstruction efforts are expected to account for some of that in the coming months.
Still, Ida closed oil refineries in Louisiana and Mississippi about two weeks ago, leaving more than 1 million homes and businesses without electricity. But Ida’s influence was limited: Applications for unemployment benefits fell slightly in Mississippi.
The labor market and the wider economy have in recent weeks been slowed down by the delta variant, which has deterred many Americans from traveling, staying in hotels and eating out. Earlier this month, the government reported that employers only added 235,000 jobs in August after adding about a million people in both June and July.
Employment in August plummeted in industries that require face-to-face contact with the public, particularly restaurants, hotels and retailers. Nevertheless, some jobs were added in other areas, and unemployment actually fell to 5.2% from 5.4%.
The steady decline in weekly unemployment benefits coincides with a decline in aid to unemployed Americans. Last week, more than 8 million people lost all their unemployment benefits with the expiration of two federal programs that covered concert workers and people who have been unemployed for more than six months. These emergency programs were created in March 2020, when the pandemic first hit the economy.
Another 2.7 million people receiving regular state employment assistance lost a $ 300-a-week federal unemployment benefit last week.