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    Unemployment Claims Up a Bit; Manufacturing Gains

    Unemployment claims increased slightly last week, but remained near pandemic lows. A manufacturing index rose sharply.A year after they first rocketed upward, jobless claims may finally be returning to earth.More than 714,000 people filed for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was up slightly from the week before, but still among the lowest weekly totals since the pandemic began.In addition, 237,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers people who don’t qualify for state benefits programs. That number, too, has been falling.Jobless claims remain high by historical standards, and are far above the norm before the pandemic, when around 200,000 people a week were filing for benefits. Applications have improved only gradually — even after the recent declines, the weekly figure is modestly below where it was last fall. Some 18 million people in total are receiving jobless assistance, many of them through programs that extend benefits beyond the 26 weeks that are offered in most states.But economists are optimistic that further improvement is ahead as the vaccine rollout accelerates and more states lift restrictions on business activity. Fewer companies are laying off workers, and hiring has picked up, meaning that people who lose their jobs are more likely to find new ones quickly.“We could actually finally see the jobless claims numbers come down because there’s enough job creation to offset the layoffs,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the job site ZipRecruiter.There are other signs that the economic recovery is gaining momentum. The Institute for Supply Management said Thursday that its manufacturing index, a closely watched measure of the industrial economy, hit its highest level since 1983 in March. The report’s employment index also rose strongly, a sign that manufacturers are likely to step up hiring to meet rising demand.Economists will get a more complete, albeit less timely, picture of the job market on Friday, when the Labor Department releases data on hiring and unemployment in March. Forecasters surveyed by FactSet expect the report to show that U.S. employers added more than 600,000 jobs last month, the most since October.Even better numbers probably lie ahead. The March data was collected early in the month, before most states broadened vaccine access and before most Americans began receiving $1,400 checks from the federal government as part of the newly passed relief package. Those forces should lead to even faster job growth in April, said Jay Bryson, chief economist for Wells Fargo.“If you don’t get a barnburner in March, I think you’re probably going to get one in April,” he said.The biggest risk to the economy is as it has been for the last year: the coronavirus itself. Virus cases are rising again in much of the country as states have begun easing restrictions. If that upward trend turns into a full-blown new wave of infections, it could force some states to reverse course, which could act as a brake on the recovery, Mr. Bryson warned.But few economists expect a repeat of last winter, when a jump in Covid-19 cases pushed the recovery into reverse. More than a quarter of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and more than two million people a day are being inoculated. That should allow economic activity to continue to rebound.Still, Ms. Pollak cautioned that the job market would not return to normal overnight. Even as many companies resume normal operations, others are discovering that the pandemic has permanently disrupted their business model.“There are still a lot of business closures and a lot of layoffs that have yet to happen,” she said. “The repercussions of this pandemic are still rippling through this economy.” More

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    Why Are Jobless Claims Still High? For Some, It’s the Multiple Layoffs.

    A California study shows the extent of dependence on benefits over the last year and how many people have shuttled in and out of work.Jobs are coming back. Businesses are reopening. But a year after the pandemic jolted the economy, applications for unemployment benefits remain stubbornly, shockingly high — higher on a weekly basis than at any point in any previous recession, by some measures.And headway has stalled: Initial weekly claims under regular and emergency programs, combined, have been stuck at just above one million since last fall, and last week was no exception, the Labor Department reported Thursday.“It goes up a little bit, it goes down, but really we haven’t seen much progress,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist for the career site Indeed. “A year into this, I’m starting to wonder, what is it going to take to fix the magnitude problem? How is this going to actually end?”The continued high rate of unemployment applications has been something of a mystery for many economists. With the pandemic still suppressing activity in many sectors, it makes sense that joblessness would remain high. But businesses are reopening in much of the country, and trends on employment and spending are generally improving. So shouldn’t unemployment filings be falling?New evidence from California may offer a partial explanation: According to a report released Thursday by the California Policy Lab, a research organization affiliated with the University of California, nearly 80 percent of the unemployment applications filed in the state last month were from people who had been laid off earlier in the pandemic, gotten back to work, and then been laid off again.Such repeat claims were particularly common in the information sector — which in California includes many film and television employees who have been sidelined by the pandemic — and in the hard-hit hotel and restaurant industries, as well as in construction.The Policy Lab researchers had access to detailed information from the state that allowed them to track individual workers through the system, something not possible with federal data.California’s economy differs from that of the rest of the country in myriad ways, and the pandemic has played out differently there than in many other places. But if the same patterns hold elsewhere, it suggests that the ups and downs of the pandemic — lockdowns and reopenings, restrictions that tighten and ease as virus cases rise and fall — have left many workers stuck in a sort of limbo.A restaurant may recall some workers when indoor dining is allowed, only to lay them off again a few weeks later when restrictions are reimposed. A worker may find a temporary job at a warehouse, or pick up a few hours of work on a delivery app, but be unable to find a more stable job.“This shows the oscillation of employed, unemployed, employed, unemployed — people cycling back into the system,” said Elizabeth Pancotti, policy director at Employ America, a group in Washington that has been an advocate for the unemployed. “We did not see that in previous recessions.”What that instability will mean for workers’ long-term prospects remains unclear. Economic research has found that extended periods of unemployment can leave workers at a permanent disadvantage in the labor market. But there is little precedent for a period of such prolonged instability.Distributing food in Inglewood, Calif., in January. The pandemic’s economic effects hit Black workers in the state especially hard.Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times“We don’t know what happens if you’re out of work for two months, you come back to work for two months, you’re out of work for two months, you keep going back and forth,” Ms. Pancotti said.The California data shows how the economic effects of the pandemic have been concentrated among certain industries and demographic groups — and how the consequences continue to mount for the most affected workers, even as the crisis eases for many others.Nearly 90 percent of Black workers in the state have claimed unemployment benefits at some point in the pandemic, according to the Policy Lab analysis, compared with about 40 percent of whites. Younger and less-educated workers have been hit especially hard.Those totals include filings under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which covers people left out of the regular unemployment system, a group that disproportionately includes Black workers. The record-keeping for that program has been plagued by overcounting and fraudulent claims. But even a look at the state’s regular unemployment insurance program, which hasn’t faced the same issues, reveals remarkable numbers: Close to three in 10 California workers have claimed benefits during the crisis, and more than four in 10 Black workers.“That degree of inequality is mind-blowing,” said Till von Wachter of the University of California, Los Angeles, one of the report’s authors.Many of those who lost jobs early in the crisis have since returned to work. But millions have not. The Policy Lab found that nearly four million Californians had received more than 26 weeks of benefits during the pandemic, a rough measure of long-term unemployment.“We have solidly shifted into a world where a large-scale problem of long-term unemployment is now a reality,” Dr. von Wachter said. Black workers, older workers, women and those with less education have been more likely to end up out of work for extended periods.Nationally, nearly six million people were enrolled as of late February in federal extended-benefit programs that cover people who have exhausted their regular benefits, which last for six months in most states. The aid package signed by President Biden last week ensures that those programs will continue until fall, but benefits alone won’t prevent the damage that prolonged joblessness can do to workers’ careers and mental and physical health.“The recovery needs to be on the scale of being a once-in-a-generation economic upswing to really pull those people back into the labor market,” Ms. Konkel said.The latest data provides little sign of that happening. More than 746,000 people filed first-time applications for state unemployment benefits last week, up 24,000 from the previous week, according to the Labor Department. In addition, 282,000 filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.Most forecasters expect the labor market recovery to accelerate in coming months, as warmer weather and rising vaccination rates allow more businesses to reopen, and as the new injection of government aid encourages Americans to go out and spend. Policymakers at the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that they expected the unemployment rate to fall to 4.5 percent by the end of the year, a significant upgrade over the 5 percent they forecast three months ago.“We’re already starting to see improvement now, and I think that will start to accelerate fairly quickly,” said Daniel Zhao, an economist at the career site Glassdoor.But government aid can do only so much as long as the pandemic continues to limit consumers’ behavior. The pace of the recovery now, Mr. Zhao said, depends on a factor beyond the scope of normal economic analysis.“The dominating factor right now is how quickly we can get vaccines in arms,” he said. More

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    How the U.S. Got It (Mostly) Right in the Economy’s Rescue

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }Biden’s Stimulus PlanBiden’s AddressWhat to Know About the BillAnalysis: Economic RescueBenefits for Middle ClassShoppers at a mall in Los Angeles. Consumer spending is nearly back to its prepandemic level.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York TimesAnalysisHow the U.S. Got It (Mostly) Right in the Economy’s RescueThough the recession has been painful, policymakers cushioned the pandemic’s blow and opened the way to recovery.Shoppers at a mall in Los Angeles. Consumer spending is nearly back to its prepandemic level.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York TimesSupported byContinue reading the main storyMarch 15, 2021Updated 2:31 p.m. ETWhen the coronavirus pandemic ripped a hole in the economy a year ago, many feared that the United States would repeat the experience of the last recession, when a timid and short-lived government response, in the view of many experts, led to years of high unemployment and anemic wage growth.Instead, the federal government responded with remarkable force and speed. Within weeks after the virus hit American shores, Congress had launched a multitrillion-dollar barrage of programs to expand unemployment benefits, rescue small businesses and send checks to most American households. And this time, unlike a decade ago, Washington is keeping the aid flowing even as the crisis begins to ease: On Thursday, President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion aid bill that will pump still more cash into households, businesses, and state and local governments.The Federal Reserve, too, acted swiftly, deploying emergency tools developed in the financial crisis a decade earlier. Those efforts helped safeguard the financial system — and the central bank has pledged to remain vigilant.The result is an economy far stronger than most forecasters expected last spring, even as the pandemic proved much worse than feared. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.2 percent, from nearly 15 percent in April. Consumer spending is nearly back to its prepandemic level. Households are sitting on trillions of dollars in savings that could fuel an epic rebound as the health crisis eases.Yet not everyone made it into the lifeboats unscathed, if at all. Millions of laid-off workers waited weeks or months to begin receiving help, often with lasting financial consequences. Aid to hundreds of thousands of small businesses dried up long before they could welcome back customers; many will never reopen. Long lines at food banks and desperate pleas for help on social media reflected the number of people who slipped through the cracks.“The damage that has been done has occurred in a disparate fashion,” said Michelle Holder, a John Jay College economist who has studied the pandemic’s impact. “It’s occurred among low-income families. It’s occurred among Black and brown families. It’s certainly occurred among families that did not have a lot of resources to fall back on.”For many white-collar workers, Dr. Holder said, the pandemic recession may one day look like a mere “bump in the road.” But not for those hit hardest.“It wasn’t just a bump in the road if you were a low-wage worker, if you were a low-income family,” she said. “Their ability to recover is just not the same as ours.”Jesus Quinonez lost his job as a manager at a warehouse in the San Diego area early in the pandemic. He quickly found another job — with a company that shut down before he could begin work. He hasn’t worked since.It took Mr. Quinonez, 62, three months to fight his way through California’s overwhelmed unemployment insurance system and begin receiving benefits. Less than two months later, a $600-a-week unemployment supplement from the federal government expired, leaving Mr. Quinonez, his wife and his four children trying to subsist on a few hundred dollars a week in regular unemployment benefits.By January, Mr. Quinonez was four months behind on rent on the one-bedroom trailer he shares with his family. He had raided his 401(k) account, leaving no savings a few years before his intended retirement. Government nutrition assistance kept his family fed, but it didn’t help with the car payment, or pay for toilet paper.“I started falling behind on my bills, plain and simple,” he said.A closed storefront in Newark. Not everyone made it into the lifeboats unscathed.Credit…Bryan Anselm for The New York TimesFor hundreds of thousands of small businesses, government aid dried up long before they could welcome back customers. Many will never reopen.Credit…Bryan Anselm for The New York TimesBut in December, Congress passed a $900 billion aid package, which included a second round of direct checks to households and revived the expanded unemployment programs. By January, Mr. Quinonez was able to pay off at least part of his debt, enough to hold on to the trailer and his car. The next round of aid should carry Mr. Quinonez until he can work again.“As soon as they lift the restrictions and more people get vaccinated, I see things coming back good,” he said. “I expect to get a job, and I expect to continue working until I retire.”Whether Mr. Quinonez’s story — and millions more like it — should count as a success or failure for public policy is partly a matter of perspective. Mr. Quinonez himself is unimpressed: He worked and paid taxes for decades, then found himself subject to a decrepit state computer system and a divided Congress.“Now that we need them, there’s no freaking help,” he said.Research from Eliza Forsythe, an economist at the University of Illinois, found that from June until Feb. 17, only 41 percent of unemployed workers had access to benefits. Some of the rest were unaware of their eligibility or couldn’t navigate the thicket of rules in their states. Others simply weren’t eligible. Asian workers, Black workers and those with less education were disproportionately represented among the nonrecipients.The gaps and delays in the system had consequences.“The impact of that is folks’ having to move out of their apartments because they have this money that’s supposed to be coming but they just haven’t received it,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group. Others kept their homes because of eviction bans, but had their utilities shut off, Ms. Dixon added, or turned to food banks to avoid going hungry — measures of food insecurity surged in the pandemic.Still, the federal government did far more for unemployed workers than in any previous recession. Congress expanded the safety net to cover millions of workers — freelancers, part-time workers, the self-employed — who are left out in normal times. At the peak last summer, the state and federal unemployment systems were paying $5 billion a day in benefits — money that helped workers avoid evictions and hunger and that flowed through the economy, preventing an even worse outcome.The record of other federal responses is similarly mixed. The Paycheck Protection Program helped hundreds of thousands of small businesses but was plagued by administrative hiccups and, at least according to some estimates, saved relatively few jobs. Direct checks to households similarly helped keep families afloat, but sent billions of dollars to households that were already financially stable, while failing to reach some of those who needed the help the most — in some cases because they had not filed tax returns or did not have bank accounts.Beyond the successes and failures of specific programs, any evaluation of the broader economy needs to start with a question: Compared with what?Relative to a world without Covid-19, the economy remains deeply troubled. The United States had 9.5 million fewer jobs in February than a year earlier, a hole deeper than in the worst of the last recession. Gross domestic product fell 3.5 percent in 2020, making it among the worst years on record.Relative to the rosy predictions early in the pandemic — when economists hoped a brief shutdown would let the country beat the virus, then get quickly back to work — the downturn has been long and damaging. But those hopes were dashed not by a failure of economic policy but by the virus itself, and the failure to contain it.“If you want to think back on what we got wrong, really the fundamental errors were about the spread of the virus,” said Karen Dynan, a Harvard economist and Treasury Department official during the Obama administration. But relative to the outcome that forecasters feared in the worst moments last spring, the rebound has been remarkably strong. In May, economists at Goldman Sachs predicted that the unemployment rate would be 12 percent at the end of 2020 and wouldn’t fall below 6 percent until 2024. The same team now expects the rate to fall to 4 percent by the end of this year. Other forecasters have similarly upgraded their projections..css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.The recovery proved so strong in part because businesses were able to adapt better — and Americans, for better or worse, were willing to take more risks — than many people expected, allowing a faster rebound in activity over the summer. But the biggest factor was that Congress responded more quickly and forcefully than in any past crisis — a particularly remarkable outcome given that both the White House and Senate were controlled by Republicans, a party traditionally skeptical of programs like unemployment insurance.Millions of laid-off workers waited weeks or months to begin receiving help, a lag that often left financial consequences.Credit…Bryan Woolston/ReutersLong lines at food banks provided a hint of the number of people who slipped through the cracks.Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times“The dominant narrative about Washington and about legislating and public policy is one of dysfunction, one of not being able to rise to meet challenges, one of not being able to get it together to address glaring problems, and I think it’s a well-earned narrative,” said Michael R. Strain, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute. “But when I look back over the last year, that is just not what I see.”Congress didn’t prevent a recession. But its intervention, along with aggressive action from the Federal Reserve, may have prevented something much worse.“We could have experienced another Great Depression-like event that took years and years to recover from, and we didn’t,” Dr. Strain said.Washington’s moment of unity didn’t last. Democrats pushed for another multitrillion-dollar dose of aid. Republicans, convinced that the economy would rebound largely on its own once the pandemic eased, wanted a much smaller package. The stalemate lasted months, allowing aid to households and businesses to lapse. Economists are still debating the long-term impact of that delay, but there is little doubt it resulted in thousands of business failures.“We had this grand success that policymakers acted so quickly in passing two significant pieces of legislation early in the pandemic, and then they flailed through the whole fall in just the most frustrating of ways,” said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic-policy arm of the Brookings Institution. “That was just such an unforced error and created confusion and needless panic.”But unlike in 2009, when Republican opposition prevented any significant economic aid after President Barack Obama’s first few months in office, Congress did eventually provide more help. The $900 billion in aid passed in late December prevented millions of people from losing unemployment benefits, and helped sustain the recovery at a moment when it looked like it was faltering.The $1.9 trillion plan that Democrats pushed through Congress this month could help the United States achieve something it failed to do after the last recession: ensure a robust recovery.If that happens, it could fundamentally shift the narrative around the pandemic recession. The damage was deeply unequal, and the economic response, though it helped many families weather the storm, didn’t come close to overcoming that inequity. But a recovery that restores jobs quickly could help workers like Mr. Quinonez get back on track.“It’s just a bad year, and you just close the page and move on and try to make the best of the new days and new years,” he said. “Things are going to get better.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Unemployment Claims Fall, Fueling Economic Hope

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesRisk Near YouVaccine RolloutGuidelines After VaccinationAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyUnemployment Claims Fall, Fueling Economic HopeAlthough millions remain jobless and layoffs continue, the latest data adds to evidence that distress is on the decline.Diners at a Minneapolis restaurant. Business restrictions across the country have begun to lift and vaccinations have picked up, fueling hopes of an economic resurgence.Credit…Liam Doyle for The New York TimesMarch 11, 2021Updated 1:10 p.m. ETThe second year of the coronavirus pandemic is starting with rising hopes for the economic outlook — and a long way to go.Positive signs are emerging as restrictions on businesses lift and the pace of vaccine distributions ramps up. But millions remain unemployed, and many economists are cautioning that a return to pre-pandemic conditions could take months, if not years.That reality became all the more evident on Thursday, when the Labor Department reported that a total of 709,000 workers filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits in the week that ended March 6. Though the figure was 47,000 lower than the week before — and touching the lowest levels of the last year — it was still extraordinarily high by historical standards.“The story week in and week out is that magnitude steals the show,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the career site Indeed. The report “really paints the picture of long-term joblessness,” she said, adding, “That is the reality for millions of Americans and is going to be a hurdle for the recovery to clear.”All told, there are about 9.5 million fewer jobs than there were a year ago. More than four million people have dropped out of the labor force, a group not included in the most widely cited unemployment rate.“We’re still not yet at the phase of the recovery where we’re seeing the floodgates open up,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist with the career site Glassdoor. “I don’t think it’s quite fair to call what we’ve done so far ‘reopening’ because there’s still a lot of people who are out of work and a lot of businesses that are closed.”On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state unemployment claims last week totaled 712,000, shaking off a surge in the last week of February caused in part by the devastating winter storms in Texas.In addition to the state claims, there were 478,000 new claims last week for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits, an increase of 42,000.The Labor Department report was released a day after Congress gave final approval to President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package, which will inject the economy with a fresh surge of federal aid. The legislation, signed by Mr. Biden on Thursday, includes an extension of federal jobless benefits, which could provide a stopgap measure of relief for those still out of work as the labor market begins to heal in earnest after months of uneven improvement.The provisions come at an urgent moment for the millions of jobless: Democrats had been racing to get the bill signed into law before federal unemployment benefits begin to lapse on Sunday. Under its terms, a $300 weekly supplement to other unemployment payments will be extended through Sept. 6. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program will be available for at least 79 weeks, up from 50, and run through Sept. 6.The Coronavirus Outbreak More

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    Unemployment Claims Dropped Last Week as Coronavirus Cases Eased

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesRisk Near YouVaccine RolloutNew Variants TrackerAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyJobless Claims Decline as Coronavirus Cases EaseThe latest reading on the labor market shows evidence of continued healing, though economists caution that the recovery is still fragile.Coronavirus caseloads have been dropping amid vaccination efforts, but until employers and consumers feel that the pandemic is under control, economists say, the labor market won’t fully recover.Credit…James Estrin/The New York TimesFeb. 25, 2021Updated 5:42 p.m. ETNew claims for unemployment fell last week, the government reported on Thursday, the latest sign that the labor market’s recovery, however slow and unsteady, is continuing.“The numbers look encouraging on the face of it,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.He and other analysts, however, cautioned against reading too much into a single week’s changes. The combined average of new state and federal unemployment insurance claims over the first eight weeks of this year is actually slightly higher than it was over the last eight weeks of 2020.When you take step back and look at the broader picture, Mr. Daco said, “It does reflect an environment in which the labor market remains quite fragile.”A total of 710,000 workers filed first-time claims for state benefits during the week that ended Feb. 20, a decrease of 132,000, the Labor Department said. In addition, 451,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits, a decline of 61,000.Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 730,000, a decline of 111,000.On an unadjusted basis, last week’s total was the lowest number of new state claims since the start of the pandemic; seasonally adjusted, it was the lowest since November. The figures are subject to revision as the Labor Department receives more data.Although initial jobless claims are nowhere near the eye-popping levels seen last spring, they are still extraordinarily high by historical standards. There are roughly 10 million fewer jobs than there were last year at this time.Coronavirus caseloads have been dropping amid efforts to get vaccines to people who are most vulnerable. But until employers and consumers feel that the pandemic is under control, economists say, the labor market won’t fully recover.“I can’t imagine we’re going to see big changes in jobless claims for a while,” said Allison Schrager, an economist at the Manhattan Institute.The Coronavirus Outbreak More

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    A Year of Hardship, Helped and Hindered by Washington

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesSee Your Local RiskNew Variants TrackerVaccine RolloutA Year of Hardship, Helped and Hindered by WashingtonFor Kathryn Stewart, a struggling single mother in Michigan, the past year showed how much safety net programs can help — and how the nation’s fickleness about them can add confusion and uncertainty to fear and worry.Credit…Supported byContinue reading the main storyFeb. 14, 2021Updated 2:57 p.m. ETWhen the coronavirus pandemic struck last March, Kathryn Stewart was working at a gas station in rural Michigan and living in her mother’s trailer with eight relatives, three dogs and a budget with no room for error. Her mother, who is disabled, soon urged her to quit to avoid bringing home the disease. Ms. Stewart reluctantly agreed, wondering how she would support herself and her 10-year-old son.An expanded safety net caught her, after being rushed into place by Congress last spring with rare bipartisan support.To her surprise, Ms. Stewart not only received unemployment insurance but a weekly bonus of $600 more than tripled her income. A stimulus check offered additional help, as did a modest food stamp increase. Despite opaque rules and confounding delays, the outpouring of government aid lifted her above the poverty line.Six months later, after temporary aid expired and deadlock in Washington returned, Ms. Stewart’s benefits fell to a trickle, and she was all but homeless after a family fight forced her from the trailer to a friend’s spare room. She skipped meals to feed her son, sold possessions to conjure cash and suffered anxiety attacks so severe they sometimes kept her in bed.Just as Ms. Stewart finally found a job, celebration turned to shock: The state demanded that she repay the jobless aid she had received, claiming she had been ineligible. That left her with an eye-popping debt of more than $12,000.“I spent the whole day just trying to breathe,” Ms. Stewart said the day the notice arrived. “I’m really confused about the whole thing. I’m trying not to panic.”At times during 2020, Kathryn Stewart was bringing in more money than ever because of government aid programs. At other times, when the aid dried up, she and her son went hungry.Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York TimesIn the robust aid she received and its painful disappearance, Ms. Stewart’s experience captures both sides of the gyrating federal efforts to fortify the safety net in a crisis of historic proportions.As the virus ravaged jobs last spring, rapid federal action protected millions of people from hardship and showed that government can be a powerful force in reducing poverty.Yet the expiration of aid a few months later also underscored how vulnerable the needy are to partisan standoffs in an age of polarized government. Gaps in aid left families short on food and rent, uncertainty made it impossible to plan and confusion joined fear and worry.In his first weeks in office, President Biden appears to have both lessons in mind. A benefit extension passed in December expires next month, and he is urging Congress to spend big and move fast to keep 11 million workers from losing unemployment aid. Democrats are advancing his $1.9 trillion plan for stimulus and relief with a fast-track procedure that limits their policy options but increases the odds of avoiding more whipsaw delays.Critics of the spending warn it swells the national debt and erodes incentives to work. Supporters say the government’s impact has rarely seemed so direct: When help flowed at extraordinary levels, poverty fell. When it ended, poverty rose.“This could be a watershed moment,” said H. Luke Shaefer, who runs a poverty research center at the University of Michigan. “We showed how much government can do to mitigate hardship, even if the effort didn’t last.”Ms. Stewart and her son, Jack, had to rely at one point on a friend for housing.Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York TimesWith millions still depending on government aid in a weak recovery, Ms. Stewart’s experience over the past 10 months highlights the stakes. As her complex life shows, the causes of poverty often run deep, and some lie beyond the reach of a government check. But the aid, while it lasted, broke her fall, and she is now back on her feet.In recent weeks, Ms. Stewart, 36, has been working at an Amazon warehouse and fighting Michigan’s efforts to recoup her unemployment benefits. She said she was “super happy” to no longer be at risk from another Washington impasse.An introspective woman, insightful about her hardships but distant from politics, she wonders how federal help has at once been so generous and so unsteady — a question that weighs on millions of Americans now waiting to see whether Congress moves quickly enough to sustain their benefits.“It made a huge difference in our lives,” Ms. Stewart said. “But it starts and stops and it’s really confusing. You feel helpless when you’re being helped by the government.”Should another crisis arise, she said, “I hope the government has a better plan.”Anxiety, Solitude and Then the PandemicMs. Stewart grew up accustomed to hardship and inventive in her responses. In a family too poor for vacations, she created her own by tagging along on her stepfather’s tractor-trailer runs. When he fought with her mother, she sheltered in closets. When he left, her mother tried to quell the family’s hunger with diet pills. Ms. Stewart was in grade school when panic attacks started, which she blamed on the conflict.An unsupervised adolescence followed in Grand Rapids, where Ms. Stewart slept in parks with runaways. She liked the literature of bohemians and rebels — Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Wilde — but left school at 16 and lived in her car. Short on formal education, Ms. Stewart was long on curiosity and peripatetic instinct, which carried her from Ireland to California in between seasonal work at Michigan resorts. She dyed her hair unusual colors. She gave herself tattoos. She covered her walls with the surrealist works of Salvador Dalí, in shared faith that “you create your own reality.” Fearful of forgetting, Ms. Stewart kept a memory box, which included a middle-school note, a ukulele pick and clippings from her first mohawk.CreditMs. Stewart’s shift at an Amazon warehouse starts at 1:20 a.m. “I’m a number but a number with a paycheck,” she said.Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York TimesIn her mid-20s, Ms. Stewart married and had a son, Jack, but her husband left and her anxiety grew. “Over the years I’ve gotten real anxious — almost afraid of people,” she said. “I’m an empath — if someone else feels bad, I feel bad.”Still, Ms. Stewart worked, most happily in solitude.By 2019, Ms. Stewart was a night janitor and living with her sister in Grand Rapids. Her sister fell behind on the rent and insisted they move in with their mother, five hours away in rural Ossineke. Ms. Stewart grudgingly succumbed. “We all rely on each other, which is good except for us not getting along,” she said.With four children and conflicting parenting styles, the trailer proved crowded and tense. When Ms. Stewart found work as a gas station cashier — $10 an hour, 20 hours a week — she welcomed the escape as much as the pay.A few weeks later, the coronavirus hit.Against All Odds, Help Was on the Way As the virus spread in early March, President Donald J. Trump insisted it posed no threat. “Jobs are booming, incomes are soaring,” he tweeted. By the next week, Disneyland and Broadway were padlocked and the stock market notched its worst daily loss in decades.While the need for Washington action was clear, the risks of an impasse were great. Liberal Democrats controlled the House, conservative Republicans held the Senate, and Mr. Trump derided the House speaker as “Crazy Nancy” Pelosi. Yet within a few weeks, they agreed on a $2.2 trillion plan.One surprise was how much it did for the poor, a class not known for political clout. Even the poorest families fully qualified for stimulus payments — $1,200 for adults, $500 for children (some Republicans had proposed giving them less) — and at the Democrats’ insistence, Congress greatly expanded jobless benefits.The existing program was filled with gaps: It covered only about a quarterof the jobless and replaced less than half their lost wages. Congress widened coverage, temporarily adding part-time workers, independent contractors and others typically excluded. And for four months it gave everyone on jobless aid a large bonus: $600 a week.The payments were more than many workers had earned on the job. Critics said the aid would discourage the jobless from seeking work, but urgency prevailed. “Gag and vote for it anyway,” the Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, advised fellow Republicans. The Senate vote was 96 to 0.Approving aid was one thing, delivering it another. Most stimulus checks arrived automatically and fast, though people who did not file tax returns had to contact the Internal Revenue Service — a procedural hurdle that kept payments from about eight million potentially eligible people, mostly low-income. Households with undocumented immigrants were barred from stimulus checks, which excluded about five million spouses and children who were citizens or legal residents.Unemployment insurance proved harder to get. With nearly 40 million claims in nine weeks, the state-run programs were overwhelmed. Computers crashed. Phone lines jammed. Governors called in the National Guard to process requests.Food shortages soared, especially among families with children as school closures deprived millions of meals. Lines outside food banks stretched for miles.The Coronavirus Outbreak More

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    Dip in Unemployment Claims Offers Hope as New Virus Cases Ease

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesSee Your Local RiskNew Variants TrackerVaccine RolloutAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyDip in Unemployment Claims Offers Hope as New Virus Cases EaseWith restrictions lifting, workers in industries hard hit by the pandemic are getting a respite from layoffs, and job postings are increasing.A closed restaurant at Grand Central Market in Los Angeles. Workers in leisure and hospitality industries have been hit especially hard by job losses during the pandemic.Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York TimesFeb. 11, 2021Updated 5:59 p.m. ETAfter a pandemic-induced spike in layoffs amid new restrictions in many states, unemployment claims are falling, helped by a drop in new coronavirus cases.Initial claims for unemployment benefits declined last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, and were significantly below the level in most of December and early January.New coronavirus cases have fallen by a third from the level of two weeks ago, prompting states like California and New York to relax curbs on indoor dining and other activities. That, in turn, has provided something of a respite for workers in the hardest-hit industries.Last week brought 813,000 new claims for state benefits, compared with 850,000 the previous week. Adjusted for seasonal variations, last week’s figure was 793,000, a decrease of 19,000.There were 335,000 new claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for part-time workers, the self-employed and others ordinarily ineligible for jobless benefits. That total, which was not seasonally adjusted, was down from 369,000 the week before.While claims remain extraordinarily high by historical standards, the improvement has raised hopes that layoffs will continue to slow as vaccinations spread and employers shift from shedding workers to adding them.“We’re stuck at this very high level of claims, but activity is picking up,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist with ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace. Indeed, job postings at ZipRecruiter stand at 11.3 million, close to the 11.4 million level before the pandemic hit.The improving pandemic situation has eased the strain on restaurants and bars, Ms. Pollak added. But with a deficit of almost 10 million jobs since the pandemic struck, and employers still cautious about hiring, the economy faces broad challenges.Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, told the Economic Club of New York on Wednesday that policymakers should stay focused on restoring full employment, “given the number of people who have lost their jobs and the likelihood that some will struggle to find work in the postpandemic economy.”He noted that employment had dropped just 4 percent for workers earning high wages but “a staggering 17 percent” for the bottom quartile of earners.The Coronavirus Outbreak More