The number of people seeking unemployment aid in the U.S. soared last week to 965,000, the most since late August and a sign that the resurgent virus has likely escalated layoffs.
The latest figures for jobless claims, issued Thursday by the Labor Department, remain at levels never seen until the virus struck.
Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com, says that while the numbers are shocking, “they’re not necessarily surprising.”
Before the pandemic, weekly applications typically numbered around 225,000. They spiked to nearly 7 million last spring, after nationwide shutdowns took effect.
Applications declined over the summer but have been stuck above 700,000 since September.
The high pace of layoffs coincides with an economy that has faltered as consumers have avoided traveling, shopping and eating out in the face of soaring viral caseloads.
Economists say that once coronavirus vaccines are more widely distributed, a broader recovery should take hold in the second half of the year.
The incoming Biden administration, along with a now fully Democratic-led House and Senate, is also expected to push more rescue aid and spending measures that could accelerate growth.
“The president-elect is going to want to push through higher levels of economic stimulus or relief payments,” Hamrick said.
Many analysts also worry that with millions of Americans still unemployed and as many as one in six small companies going out of business, people who have been hurt most by the downturn won’t likely benefit from a recovery anytime soon.