WASHINGTON (AP) — Three months after the viral outbreak shut down businesses across the country, U.S. employers are still shedding jobs at a heavy rate, a trend that points to a slow and prolonged recovery from the recession.
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The number of laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits barely fell last week to 1.5 million, the government said Thursday. That was down from a peak of nearly 7 million in March, and it marked an 11th straight weekly drop. But the number is still more than twice the record high that existed before the pandemic. And the total number of people receiving jobless aid remains a lofty 20.5 million.
The figures surprised and disappointed analysts who had expected far fewer people to seek unemployment aid as states increasingly reopen their economies and businesses recall some laid-off people back to work. The data also raised concerns that some recent layoffs may reflect permanent losses as companies restructure their businesses, rather than temporary cuts in response to government-ordered closures.
The report is “telling us that the scars from the job losses in the recession will be longer-lasting than we expected,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.
At the same time, Thursday’s figures may have raised as many questions about the state of the job market as they answered. Jobless claims generally tracks the pace of layoffs. But they provide little information about how much hiring is occurring that would offset those losses. In May, for example, employers added 2.5 million jobs — an increase that caught analysts off-guard because the number of applications for unemployment aid was still so high.