David Robinson: Why economists are hopeful as Buffalo Niagara digs out of a deep jobs hole | Columnists

We’ve been averaging a little more than 3,700 new jobless claims a week since the beginning of the year. That’s about 50% higher than the levels we saw during the late summer and mid-fall, before the November “orange zone” restrictions took effect. It’s also about three times higher than a year ago, back when things were normal.

So there’s still a lot of turnover in the job market, with people losing jobs at an elevated rate. And the concerning part is that the pace of filings picked up through most of this year, even as the orange zone restrictions were eased.

But there was a bright spot in the jobless claims data released on Thursday. The number of filings during the first week of March was the second-lowest since the week of Christmas.

The stimulus package also helps here, too, extending the extra $300 in unemployment benefits through Sept. 6, and making the first $10,200 of those payments nontaxable for households with incomes under $150,000. It also provides a 100% subsidy of COBRA health insurance premiums through the end of September to laid-off workers can remain on their employer health plans at no cost.

The aid to state and local governments, as well as schools, that was included in the stimulus package should shore up government employment.

The number of government jobs has been inching down for the last four months, but most of those positions had been immune from much of the economic pain caused by the pandemic. Government jobs are down by 6% since March, which is much better than the region’s nearly 10% decline over that same time.

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