1.4 million seek jobless aid as virus keeps forcing layoffs

National

Job seekers exercise social distancing as they wait to be called into the Heartland Workforce Solutions office in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Nebraska reinstated job search requirements this week for most people claiming jobless benefits. Those unemployment insurance requirements were suspended in mid-March to help employees who had lost their jobs due to the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) – More than 1.4 million laid-off Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, further evidence of the devastation the coronavirus outbreak has unleashed on the U.S. economy.

The continuing wave of job cuts is occurring against the backdrop of a spike in virus cases that has led many states to halt plans to reopen businesses and has caused millions of consumers to delay any return to traveling, shopping and other normal economic activity. Those trends have forced many businesses to cut jobs or at least delay hiring.

The Labor Department’s report Thursday marked the 19th straight week that more than 1 million people have applied for unemployment benefits. Before the coronavirus hit hard in March, the number of Americans seeking unemployment checks had never exceeded 700,000 in any one week, even during the Great Recession.

All told, 17 million people are collecting traditional jobless benefits, a sign that unemployment checks are keeping many American families afloat financially at a time of big job losses and agonizing economic uncertainty.

The pain could soon intensify: An supplemental $600 in weekly federal unemployment benefits is expiring, and Congress is squabbling about extending the aid, which would probably be done at a reduced level.

A resurgence of cases in the South and the West has forced many many bars, restaurants, beauty salons and other businesses to close again or reduce occupancy. Between June 21 and July 19, for example, the percentage of Texas bars that were closed shot up from 25% to 73%; likewise, 75% of California beauty shops were shuttered July 19, up from 40% just a week earlier; according to the data firm Womply.

And many states have imposed restrictions on visitors from states that have reported high level of virus cases, thereby hurting hotels, airlines and other industries that depend on travel.

The virus and the lockdowns meant to contain it have hammered the American economy: Employers slashed a record 20.8 million jobs in April, restoring about 7.5 million of them in May and June as many states began to reopen their economies.


AP Economics Writer Christopher Rugaber in Washington and Thalia Beaty in New York contributed to this report.

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