US jobless claims decline to 779,000 as lawmakers push for more COVID-19 relief

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FILE – In this Dec. 18, 2020, file photo, a person passes the office of the California Employment Development Department in Sacramento, Calif. On Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, California State Auditor Elaine Howle released a report saying that the EDD might have overpaid millions of people since March 2020 after it stopped enforcing eligibility rules so they could process claims faster. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The number of Americans filing new unemployment claims last week declined to 779,000, a still-historically high total amid a struggle to secure bipartisan agreement over the next round of coronavirus relief.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that last week’s jobless claims total fell by 33,000 from the week prior. It’s the lowest in two months.

Before the virus erupted in the United States in March, weekly applications for jobless aid had never topped 700,000, even during the Great Recession.

“Approaching the one-year mark of the pandemic, it is quite striking that new claims remain so elevated,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate. “It is not only the depth but also the duration of the downturn taking a toll.”

Meanwhile, the number of Americans receiving traditional unemployment benefits also decreased in the week ending Jan. 23, the latest period for which figures are available. Nearly 4.6 million people received unemployment benefits that week, a drop of roughly 193,000 from the week prior.

Thursday’s report reflects a U.S. job market that is still suffering from the pandemic, with hiring having weakened for six straight months. It is a key reason why President Joe Biden is pushing Congress to enact a $1.9 trillion economic rescue program, on top of a $900 billion federal aid package that was approved late last year.

Hamrick said a recent Bankrate survey found that more than half, roughly 53%, of those who received or expected to get the latest round of $600 stimulus checks “thought the money would sustain their financial well-being for less than a month.”

“This underscores why there’s a widespread belief that further fiscal assistance, being considered by Congress, is needed from the federal government. Aid of some form appears increasingly likely,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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