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837,000 Americans applied for jobless aid for the first time last week

Airlines brace for record layoffs
Airlines brace for record layoffs 02:13

Initial jobless applications dipped last week but stayed elevated, signaling that the job market remains weak nearly seven months after the coronavirus hit the U.S.

About 837,000 Americans applied for state unemployment benefits in the week ending September 26, the Labor Department said Thursday. Adjusted for seasonal variation, that represents a drop of 36,000 from the previous week.

Another 650,000 people applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program for the self-employed and gig workers.

"Overall, filings are stuck at a high level," Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics said in a note to investors. "Layoff announcements are also ongoing. Even as jobs are being recovered job losses are mounting, indicative of continuing strains in the labor market."

Job cuts announced in September were more than triple their 2019 level, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Layoffs spike

Large employers this week continued to announce job cuts. Disney said it would cut 28,000 jobs in its California amusement parks. Two airlines, United and American, said late Wednesday they woud furlough 32,000 workers unless Congress came through with a rescue deal in the next few days. Insurance company Allstate is laying off 3,800 employees.

"All of the data point to evidence that there's still a very high, steady stream of layoffs," Julia Pollak, labor economist at ZipRecruiter, said this week. "Employers who've held on and thought they could recover in a few months, they've been disappointed in the return of customers, and they're now choosing to close."

Thursday's jobless claims figures come with a caveat. California, the state with the largest labor force, has frozen applications for two weeks while it works to root out fraud in the system.

The economy has recovered only about half of the 22 million jobs that have been lost during the pandemic. And millions of Americans are facing unemployment with diminished government aid since the expiration of a $600-a-week federal benefit this summer.

The Labor Department is set to release employment figures for September on Friday. Economists expect to see about 850,000 jobs added, the third month of decreasing job gains.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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