US weekly jobless claims climb to 770,000 as country edges closer toward reopening

Brooklyn food pantry coronavirusMichael Nagle/Wang Ying/Xinhua/Getty ImagesPeople line up outside a food pantry in Brooklyn, New York, United States, on Nov. 12, 2020.
  • US jobless claims reached 770,000 last week, a jump from the prior week’s revised sum of 725,000.
  • The reading lands above the median economist estimate of 700,000 claims.
  • Continuing claims fell slightly to 4.1 million for the week that ended March 6.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

More Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week as stimulus checks began hitting bank accounts and vaccinations picked up.

New jobless claims reached an unadjusted 770,000 for the week that ended Saturday, according to the Labor Department. That comes in above the median estimate of 700,000 from economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The reading also exceeds the prior week’s revised sum of 725,000 claims and marks the second gain in four weeks.

Continuing claims, which count Americans currently receiving unemployment benefits, declined slightly to 4.1 million for the week that ended March 6. That’s above the median estimate of 4 million claims.

Although it’s nearly been one year since claims first shot higher at the start of the pandemic, weekly counts still remain at historically elevated levels. Initial claims have yet to fall below 700,000 over the past 50 weeks. For comparison, 665,000 filings were made during the worst week of the Great Recession.

Nearly 82 million filings for unemployment benefits have been made since March 2020. That exceeds the 37 million claims made during the previous economic downturn.

The latest claims data is the first to follow President Joe Biden signing Democrats’ $US1.9 ($2) trillion stimulus measure. The package includes, among other tenets, a $US300 ($387)-per-week supplement to federal unemployment benefits through early September. The bill also states up to $US10,200 ($13,141) in unemployment benefits won’t be taxed, a change-up from policies included in other pandemic-era relief plans that left some recipients with unexpected bills.

The package also includes $US1,400 ($1,804) direct payments that have already started to reach Americans’ bank accounts. The checks are the largest to be included in recent stimulus measures and the first to reach adult dependants.

Recent economic data underscores that stimulus, while effective, can’t bring the economy back to its pre-pandemic strength on its own. US retail sales tumbled 3% in February, missing the median estimate of a 0.5% contraction. The prior month’s reading was revised higher to a 7.6% gain.

The data suggest the stimulus passed by President Donald Trump in December fueled a sharp increase in consumer spending before quickly tapering off last month. The February decline is likely due to “some payback” from January’s strong gains and harsh winter storms in Texas, Michael Feroli, chief US economist at JPMorgan, said Tuesday.

It’s likely that relief included in Biden’s plan, when coupled with warmer weather and lower COVID-19 case counts, can drive “an even bigger boost to consumer spending,” he added.

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