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Number of Americans applying for jobless aid ticks up

881,000 new jobless claims last week
881,000 new jobless claims last week 04:57

The number of Americans applying for unemployment assistance edged up in the last week of August. About 833,400 people applied for first-time unemployment aid in the week ending August 29, the Labor Department said Thursday. 

That's an increase of about 7,600 from the previous week, not accounting for seasonal adjustments.  Another 759,000 applied for a special program for self-employed workers called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. That figure rose 151,000 from the week before.

A fuller picture of how the labor market is faring will come on Friday when the Labor Department releases hiring data for August.

"It's the third week in a row of rising initial unemployment claims (non-seasonally adjusted)," Indeed Hiring Lab economist AnnElizabeth Konkel said in a note. "Nearly six months into the pandemic, this is an alarming trend. While this data won't show up in tomorrow's jobs report, we will get a better picture of the overall economy then. As for what we know right now, things aren't looking rosy."

On a seasonally adjusted basis, initial unemployment claims fell by 130,000 from the week before, to about 881,000. However, the government this week changed how it calculates seasonal adjustments for unemployment figures, making the current numbers not directly comparable with their historic levels.

Overall, the figures show that layoffs are continuing nearly six months after the coronavirus first swept across the U.S. Employers in August announced 115,000 job cuts, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, with industries from transportation to local government promising more cuts in the fall.

"[T]he pace of layoffs still remains very high, and it appears that the proportion of newly laid-off people quickly finding another job is falling," Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note.

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Economists have warned that a failure by lawmakers to deliver another major round of financial stimulus to workers and businesses could hinder the recovery and even plunge the U.S. into a second recession.

"This latest report adds to a growing list of indicators pointing towards an overall plateau and a long road still ahead for the labor market," said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at career site Glassdoor.

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