The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits last week rose again last week after four months of falls as the surge in coronavirus cases led states, including California and Texas, to pause the reopening of businesses shuttered to slow the coronavirus’s spread.
The labor department announced on Thursday that 1.4m claims had been received last week, up 109,000 from the previous week. The previous week’s figure was also revised up by 7,000.
The latest proof of Covid 19’s devastating impact on the US job market comes as Congress debates an extension to a $600 a week lifeline for those on benefits that experts argue has kept many in their homes amid a wave of unemployment unseen in decades.
Claims for unemployment have dropped sharply since the shutdown orders in March which triggered more than 6m claims in just one week. But they remain stubbornly high and in recent weeks have hovered around 1.3m a week, twice as high as the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 set in 1982.
There are signs that claims could rise higher as more states report increases in infections and reconsider their reopening plans. In the week ending 11 July the largest increases were in California, Florida and Georgia, all states struggling with rising infection rates, the labor department announced.
About 273,000 Arizona residents filed first-time unemployment claims last week, a new record as the state’s coronavirus case numbers passed 150,000. In North Carolina, where cases are also continuing to climb, unemployment claims are now approaching 2m.
The weekly supplement to unemployment benefits expires at the end of July and Congress is struggling to reach a consensus on a short-term extension as it discusses the next package of coronavirus relief.
Republicans have argued the extra benefits – now being received by about 25 million Americans – are a disincentive for people to return to work. On Tuesday Donald Trump acknowledged the payment had given people “a lifeline” but floated the idea of reducing the sum by 70%.
The Democratic senator Ron Wyden, who has been pushing for a full extension of the $600 benefit until the unemployment crisis eases, has said the US faces “a cliff” and that without the extra payments families will struggle to make ends meet. “Republicans have had months to propose a plan for extending supercharged unemployment benefits, and they still have nothing to offer,” he told NBC News.