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The number of Americans applying for state unemployment benefits fell slightly last week, but remained significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels, indicating that layoffs are still elevated as the economy slowly recovers amid the coronavirus crisis.
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The latest jobless claims figures from the Labor Department, which cover the week ending Oct. 31, show that 751,000 workers sought aid last week, about four-times the pre-crisis level. Still, it's well below the peak of nearly 7 million in late March, when states first implemented lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
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More than 66 million Americans ‒ roughly 40% of the nation's labor force ‒ have sought jobless aid since the coronavirus lockdowns began in mid-March.
Economists surveyed by Refinitiv expected 732,000 new claims.
The number of people who are continuing to receive unemployment benefits fell to 7.28 million, a decline of about 538,000 from the previous week. The decline suggests that employers are calling their workers back.
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Still, some of the drop-off in so-called continuing claims may represent workers who have used up the maximum number of payments available through state unemployment programs (typically about six months) and are now receiving benefits through a separate federal program that extends the aid by 13 weeks.
Congress created the extra federal benefits earlier this year with the passage of the CARES Act.
The economy has recouped about half of the jobs it lost in March and April, but the recovery has plateaued in recent weeks. There are still roughly 10.7 million more out-of-work Americans than there were in February, before the pandemic hit.
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The weekly report came one day before the Labor Department's more closely watched October jobs report, which is predicted to show the U.S. economy added 600,000 jobs last month, down slightly from September's gain of 661,000. Analysts anticipate unemployment will edge lower to 7.6% from 7.9%.
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