WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 310,000, a pandemic low and a sign that the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant has yet to lead to widespread layoffs.

Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims dropped from a revised total of 345,000 the week before. The number of applications has fallen steadily since topping 900,000 in early January, reflecting the steady reopening of the economy after the pandemic recession.

But the spread of the delta variant this summer has put renewed pressure on the economy and the job market. On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve reported that U.S. economic activity “downshifted” in July and August, in part because of a pullback in dining out, travel and tourism related to concerns about the delta variant.

And last week, the government reported that hiring slowed dramatically in August, with employers adding just 235,000 jobs after having added roughly a million in both June and July. Hiring plummeted in industries that require face-to-face contact with the public, notably restaurants, hotels and retail. Still, some jobs were added in other areas, and the unemployment rate actually dropped to 5.2% from 5.4%.

This week, more than 8 million people lost all their unemployment benefits with the expiration of two federal programs that covered gig workers and people who had been jobless for more than six months. Those emergency programs had been created in March 2020, when the pandemic first tore through the economy.

An additional 2 million people have lost a $300-a-week federal supplement to state unemployment benefits that expired this week. Some business owners had complained that the federal supplement made it harder to fill open jobs. Those pleas led governors in about 25 states to cancel the $300 payment early and to shut off the two emergency programs in most of those states as well. But academic research has found that so far, the early cut-offs in jobless benefits have led to only a small increase in hiring in those states.

Many economists express concern that the cut-off will lead to financial hardship because the resurgence of the pandemic will make it harder for some of the unemployed to find work. After previous recessions, emergency expansions of jobless aid ended at a time when far fewer people were still receiving benefits.

Still, the ongoing drop in applications for unemployment aid — six declines in the past seven weeks — makes clear that most companies are holding onto their workers despite the slowdown. That trend should help sustain the economic rebound through the current wave of infections.

The pace of hiring, though, has weakened — at least for now. Last week, the government reported that hiring slowed dramatically in August, with employers adding just 235,000 jobs after having added roughly a million in both June and July. Hiring plummeted in industries that require face-to-face contact with the public, notably restaurants, hotels and retail. Still, some jobs were added in other areas, and the unemployment rate actually dropped to 5.2% from 5.4%.

The steady fall in weekly applications for unemployment benefits coincides with a scaling-back of aid for jobless Americans. This week, more than 8 million people lost all their unemployment benefits with the expiration of two federal programs that covered gig workers and people who have been jobless for more than six months. Those emergency programs were created in March 2020, when the pandemic first tore through the economy.

That cutoff isn’t yet reflected in the weekly jobless claims report. The report’s data on the emergency programs is delayed by two weeks. As of Aug. 21, 8.8 million people were receiving benefits from these two programs.

An additional 2.6 million people were receiving regular state unemployment aid. These recipients have just lost a $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement, which also expired this week.

Some business owners had complained that the federal supplement made it harder to fill open jobs. Those pleas led governors in about 25 states to cancel the $300 payment early and to shut off the two emergency programs in most of those states as well. But academic research has found that so far, the early cut-offs in jobless benefits have led to only a small increase in hiring in those states.

Many economists express concern that the cut-off will lead to financial hardship because the resurgence of the pandemic will make it harder for some of the unemployed to find work. After previous recessions, emergency expansions of jobless aid ended at a time when far fewer people were still receiving benefits.

New unemployment claims in Washington dipped slightly last week as a rebounding state economy continued to add more jobs.

But that encouraging news comes with a warning from the state’s economist: Thanks to surging COVID-19 cases, the state could see renewed layoffs and a slowdown in recent hiring.

“I’m not expecting a dramatic change, but one that could slow down the pace of job growth from where the state was the last two months,” said Paul Turek, ESD’s state economist.  

Washingtonians filed 5,357 new, or “initial,” claims for unemployment benefits last week, a 3.1% decrease from the prior week, the state Employment Security Department (ESD) reported Thursday. Nationally, new claims rose 1.1% over the prior week, to 353,000, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.

The state’s job market continued to recover: In July, Washington added 22,700 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 5.1%, from 5.2% in June, the ESD reported on Tuesday. The U.S. unemployment rate for July was 5.4%.

But those encouraging trends are likely to be affected by recent increases of COVID-19 cases from the highly infectious delta variant of the coronavirus, which has already prompted new government restrictions.

Indeed, although initial claims remain dramatically lower than during the early months of the pandemic, their numbers have crept back up in recent weeks. The 4-week moving average for regular initial claims last week was 5,306, which was up nearly 4% from a week earlier and is 2.1% higher than it was at the same period in 2019, ESD reported.

Turek said those trends might increase moderately if rising case counts result in renewed business restrictions and consumer anxieties that affect hiring. Already, some big employers have delayed plans to bring remote workers back to the office.

“This might, in turn, affect restaurants who might be relying on these workers who would go out to lunch,” Turek said. “There might be less business meetings and travel which could affect the transportation industry.”

“Consumers might also become more reluctant to travel and eat out and delay vacation plans, thereby affecting leisure and hospitality again,” Turek added

He also noted that because the July jobs report uses data from the beginning of the month, “the full impact of the variant” may not be apparent until next month.

That prospect comes as the state’s labor shortage, though perhaps not as severe as earlier this summer, also remains a concern.

The state’s leisure and hospitality sector, which has struggled for months to hire enough workers, added 11,800 jobs in July, according to ESD data.

Demand for workers remains elevated. Postings for new leisure and hospitality jobs, though down modestly from earlier this month, are again surging and were 32% higher than in January 2020, as of Aug. 20, according to data presented by Harvard University’s Economic Tracker. Overall job postings were up 16.8% in Washington.

Some employers have said the labor shortage has been exacerbated by the $300-a-week enhanced federal unemployment benefits, which expire after Labor Day.

In Washington state,

Massachusetts employers added jobs at a robust pace in July, while the statewide unemployment rate held flat at 4.9% for the second month in a row, labor officials announced Friday.

Based on a survey of employers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the state added 43,400 jobs in July to push total employment above 3.5 million for the first time since the pandemic hit.

That one-month increase was the highest since August 2020, surpassing the 37,900 positions added in January. The largest growth came in the leisure and hospitality industry, which gained 19,400 jobs over the month, and in government, which added 12,700 jobs.

A separate BLS survey of households used to calculate the labor force and unemployment rate found little change from June to July. The unemployment rate in Massachusetts remained at 4.9% in July, 0.5 percentage points below the national unemployment rate. The labor force grew by 4,900, and the labor force participation rate — which represents residents 16 or older who worked or actively sought work in the last four weeks — ticked upward by one-tenth of a percentage point to 65.6%.

The state’s employment outlook has improved substantially since the early days of the pandemic, when the unemployment rate rose as high as 16.4% in April 2020, though businesses overall have only clawed back a bit more than two-thirds of the jobs lost in the early days of the crisis.

Gov. Charlie Baker has been pressing lawmakers to spend some of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act windfall on apprenticeship and job training programs, particularly with enhanced unemployment benefits scheduled to expire the week of Sept. 4 for 330,000 Bay Staters who remain out of work.

(Update: Adding more Runberg comments)

Unemployment rates still above pre-pandemic levels, but employment numbers close to pre-COVID peak

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) — Unemployment rates dropped across Central Oregon in June following moderate job gains, the Oregon Employment Department reported Tuesday.

The drop in unemployment rates is reinforced by the decline in the number of workers claiming unemployment benefits, Regional Economist Damon Runberg said his monthly update. The number of residents claiming benefits in Central Oregon has dropped each month this year, and was down by 60% in June from levels in January.

Runberg said in Deschutes County, for eample, the peak number of jobless claim recipients was 8,281 a year ago and has “dropped pretty consistently, until the winter wave/extreme COVID risk levels.”

The winter peak was 3,749 workers on unemployment insurance, in January. It’s dropped each month, reaching 1,505 in June, he said.

Also regarding Deschutes County, Runberg told NewsChannel 21, “I continue to be convinced that the recovery is running faster than these estimates from the BLS (US Bureau of Labor Statistics) imply.

“We just got the payroll tax records through March (these monthly estimates will be revised with those payroll records for the July report),” the economist said. “The good news is that those tax records show that Deschutes County added  1,340 MORE jobs between January and March, compared to the initial estimates.  Also, the big drop in the number of workers on unemployment benefits implies that workers are going back to work far faster than the U-rate is showing.” 

Here are the county reports for June:

Crook County: The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 7.4% in June, down slightly from 7.6% in May. The unemployment rate remains higher than before the first impacts from COVID-19 in February 2020, when it was 4.4%.

Crook County added 120 jobs in June, a marginally slower pace of hiring than typically expected this time of year. Total nonfarm employment in June was roughly equivalent to the pre-COVID peak in February 2020.

Monthly job gains were concentrated in leisure and hospitality (+40 jobs); however, employment levels remain down by 130 jobs from June 2019. There was also modest growth in professional and business services; construction; federal government; and state government. Much of this growth was typical seasonal hiring.

Deschutes County (Bend-Redmond MSA): The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate ticked down to 5.9% in June from 6.1% in May. The unemployment rate remains higher than before the first impacts from COVID-19 in February 2020, when it was 3.3%.

Deschutes County added 1,710 jobs in June, which exceeded normal seasonal expectations by around 300 jobs (+0.4%). After these job gains in June, employment levels in Deschutes County remain down 5% (-4,500 jobs) from the pre-COVID peak in February 2020.

Job gains in June were concentrated in retail trade (+590 jobs); leisure and hospitality (+490 jobs); and construction (+130). These are industries that typically add jobs this time of year. In fact, the leisure and hospitality sector continues to underperform typical seasonal hiring despite employment

St. Johns County’s unemployment rate increased in June as more people entered the job market.

While the rate rose to 4% in June from 3.2% in May, 2,032 more residents are now in the labor market, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s monthly release.

The jobless number increased by 1,189 (5,725 in June from 4,736 in May). Employers added 843 more jobs — 137,217 in June compared to 136,374 in May.

Even with the increase in the unemployment rate, St. Johns County is still the second-lowest in the state behind Monroe at 3.5%. It was at 3.1% in May.

Previous coverage:Florida unemployment rate inches up to 4.8% in April as people slowly return to workforce

In the CareerSource Northeast Florida Region — which includes Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties — the jobless rate was at 5.1% for June. It was 8.9% in June 2020. In the region, the leisure and hospitality industry added 9,500 jobs and the mining,

logging and construction sector added 3,300 jobs in the past 12 months.

Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in June was 5%, up from 4.9% in May. 

In the state, leisure and hospitality added 146,500 jobs in the past 12 months.

In the news release, FDEO attributed the rise in unemployment to the increase of 83,000 in the labor force since May.

To help get people hired, RecruitMilitary and the DAV will host the Eastern Region Virtual Career Fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, July 20. This free virtual hiring event is open for registration to all transitioning members of the military, veterans, military spouses and dependents. For information, visit recruitmilitary.careereco.com and click on “virtual events” at the top of the page. 

Area jobless in June

St. Johns 4%

Clay 4.6%

Duval 5.4%

Flagler 6%

Putnam 7.6%

Sarasota-Manatee’s combined unemployment rate hit 5% in June as the local labor force grew by about 10,000 jobs.

The latest jobless rate represented a significant increase over the previous month, when unemployment was 4.1% in the two-county region. Sarasota County had a 4.9% unemployment rate in June and Manatee County’s was 5%. Local unemployment numbers are not seasonally adjusted. 

Employers in the region added 6,101 jobs to their payrolls between May and June, and the labor force also increased to 388,735 from 379,060 in May. 

The biggest year-over-year jobs gains in Sarasota-Manatee were in professional and business services, which added 5,400 jobs; leisure and hospitality, which added 3,200 jobs; and education and health services, which added 3,100 jobs. 

Job market:Sarasota-Manatee bar and restaurant owners struggle to hire as things return to ‘normal’

Previously:Sarasota-Manatee unemployment hits 4.3% as many local businesses struggle to hire

Anthony Gagliano, vice president of business and economic development at CareerSource Suncoast in Bradenton, said that the big jump in the unemployment rate is likely because about 10,000 people joined the labor force between May and June. A lot of them haven’t found jobs yet, he said. 

“The end of school and seasonal jobs without employment for the summer have traditionally raised the unemployment rates in June too,” Gagliano said. 

Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in June was 5%, up from 4.9% in May. The slight increase also is because the labor force is growing — 83,000 people joined the pool of job seekers between May and June, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. 

As more people join the labor force in Florida, the country is dealing with a labor shortage where employers are struggling to find people to work. On July 7, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 9.2 million job openings in May, the highest number of openings for a single month since data were first published in 2000.

In May, 3.6 million workers quit their jobs. That’s down slightly from April, which saw the highest number of workers quitting their jobs in a single month in recorded history — 4 million.

That doesn’t include the 1.4 million who were either laid off or discharged. 

In Sarasota-Manatee, the most in-demand jobs are in the health care field, Gagliano said. Demand is especially high for registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, social services workers and mental health and substance abuse social workers. 

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WASHINGTON — The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose slightly last week even while the economy and the job market appear to be rebounding from the coronavirus recession with sustained energy.

Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims increased by 2,000 from the previous week to 373,000. Weekly applications, which generally track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily this year from more than 900,000 at the start of the year.

In Oregon, regular claims jumped from about 6,000 the prior week to 6,600 last week, according to the preliminary federal figures. Claims have risen in each of the past two weeks after sharp declines since April.

It’s hard to know what to make of Oregon’s recent increase. The state’s jobless claims remained elevated for several weeks last spring even as the national numbers fell, a phenomenon the Oregon Employment Department said was partly the result of a high number of fraud attempts.

The Labor Department often makes significant revisions to each state’s claims numbers the following week, so it’s probably too soon to tell whether there has been any significant change in Oregon’s labor market.

The rollout of vaccinations is driving a potent economic recovery as businesses reopen, employers struggle to fill jobs and consumers emerge from months of lockdown to travel, shop and spend at restaurants, bars, retailers and entertainment venues.

In the first three months of the year, the government has estimated that the economy expanded at a brisk 6.4% annual rate. In the April-June quarter, the annual rate is thought to have reached a sizzling 10%. And for all of 2021, the Congressional Budget Office has projected that growth will amount to 6.7%. That would be the fastest calendar-year expansion since 1984.

The economy is recovering so quickly that many companies can’t find workers fast enough to meet their increased customer demand. On Wednesday, the government said that U.S. employers posted 9.21 million jobs in May, the most since record-keeping began in 2000.

And in June, employers added a strong 850,000 jobs, and hourly pay rose a solid 3.6% compared with a year ago — faster than the pre-pandemic annual pace and a sign that companies are being compelled to pay more to attract and keep workers.

Still, the nation remains 6.8 million jobs short of the level it had in February 2021, just before the coronavirus pandemic tore through the economy and eliminated tens of millions of jobs. And weekly applications for unemployment benefits, though down sharply from earlier peaks, are still comparatively high: Before the pandemic, they were typically coming in at only around 220,000 a week.

The total number of Americans receiving jobless aid, including supplemental federal checks that were intended to provide relief during the pandemic recession, amounted to 14.2 million people during the week of June 19, down from 33.2 million a year earlier.

Many states, though, have dropped the federal aid, responding to complaints that the generous benefits were discouraging some of the unemployed from

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment aid fell again last week to the lowest level since the pandemic struck last year, further evidence that the job market and the broader economy are rebounding rapidly from the coronavirus recession.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that jobless claims dropped by 51,000 to 364,000. Applications for unemployment benefits have fallen more or less steadily since the year began. The rollout of vaccines has sharply reduced new COVID-19 cases, giving consumers the confidence to shop, travel, eat out and attend public events as the economy recovers.

Last week’s drop in jobless claims was steeper than economists had expected. Applications for unemployment benefits have now fallen in 10 of the past 12 weeks.

“As life normalizes and the service sector continues to gain momentum, we expect initial jobless claims to remain in a downtrend,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at the consulting firm Maria Fiorini Ramirez.

All that pent-up spending has generated such demand for workers, notably at restaurants and tourism businesses, that many employers have been struggling to fill jobs just as the number of posted openings has reached a record high. But many economists expect hiring to catch up with demand in the coming months, especially as federal unemployment aid programs end and more people pursue jobs.

On Friday, according to the data provider FactSet, the government is expected to report that employers added 675,000 jobs in June. That would be a substantial number but still not at a pace that would allow the economy to quickly regain its pre-pandemic level of employment. The job market remains nearly 7 million jobs short of that level.

Some businesses have complained that expanded federal aid to the unemployed — especially a $300-a-week supplemental benefit, intended to cushion the economic blow from the pandemic — has discouraged some people from looking for a job.

But other factors, too, are believed to have contributed to the shortage of people seeking work again: Difficulty arranging or affording child care, lingering fears of COVID-19, early retirements by older workers, a slowdown in immigration and a decision by some people to seek new careers rather than return to their old jobs.

Responding to the criticism about the duration of expanded jobless benefits, dozens of states began dropping the expanded federal aid starting last month: Roughly half the states will end the $300 payments. Most of those will also cut off unemployment assistance to the self-employed, gig workers and people who have been out of work for more than six months. Nationally, the $300-a-week federal benefit will end Sept. 6.

The data firm Homebase reported that employment has actually grown more slowly in the states that had dropped the federal benefits than in those that kept it.

The job market’s improvement comes against the backdrop of a fast-rebounding economy. Growth for the just-ended April-June quarter is believed to have reached an annual pace of roughly 10 percent. And according to an index produced by the Conference