WASHINGTON - The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits moved up last week to 332,000 from a pandemic low, a sign that worsening COVID infections may have slightly increased layoffs.
Applications for jobless aid rose from 312,000 the week before, the Labor Department said Thursday. Jobless claims, which generally track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily for two months as many employers, struggling to fill jobs, have held onto their employees. Two weeks ago, jobless claims reached their lowest level since March 2020.
Jobless claims rose 4,000 in Louisiana, evidence that Hurricane Ida has led to widespread job losses in that state. Ida will likely nick the economy's growth in the current July-September quarter, though repairs and rebuilding efforts are expected to regain those losses in the coming months.
Still, Ida shut down oil refineries in Louisiana and Mississippi about two weeks ago and left more than 1 million homes and businesses without electricity. But Ida's impact was limited: Applications for jobless aid fell slightly in Mississippi.
FILE - A sign that reads "Now Hiring!" is seen in the window of the PetSmart location along 5th Street Highway on Aug. 26, 2021, in Muhlenberg, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)
The job market and the broader economy have been slowed in recent weeks by the delta variant, which has discouraged many Americans from traveling, staying in hotels and eating out. Earlier this month, the government reported that employers added just 235,000 jobs in August after having added roughly a million people in both June and July.
Hiring in August plummeted in industries that require face-to-face contact with the public, notably restaurants, hotels and retailers. Still, some jobs were added in other areas, and the unemployment rate actually dropped to 5.2% from 5.4%.
The steady fall in weekly applications for unemployment benefits coincides with a scaling-back of aid for jobless Americans. Last week, more than 8 million people lost all their unemployment benefits with the expiration of two federal programs that covered gig workers and people who have been jobless for more than six months. Those emergency programs were created in March 2020, when the pandemic first tore through the economy.
An additional 2.7 million people who are receiving regular state unemployment aid lost a $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement last week.