The American job market is nowhere near fixed. Nearly one year into the pandemic, the nation is still down nearly 10 million jobs.
Another 745,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits on a seasonally adjusted basis last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. It was a slightly smaller number of claims than economists had expected, but it was up from the prior week. And it’s still more than three times the number of claims in the same week last year.
On top of that, 436,696 workers applied for Pandemic Unemployment benefits, which are available to people like the self-employed or gig workers.
Together, first-time jobless claims stood at 1.2 million without seasonal adjustments last week.
In Texas claims rose by nearly 18,000 applications, likely reflecting the recent winter storms that devastated the state.
Continued benefit claims, which count applications submitted for at least two weeks in a row, stood at 4.3 million in the week ended February 20, down from the week before.
To be sure, the labor crisis is much improved from nearly a year ago, when weekly first-time benefit claims skyrocketed to 6.9 million and millions of jobs vanished. Many people have been able to return to work since, but the job market remains deep in a hole.
More than 18 million workers received benefits under the government’s various programs in the week ended February 13.
Other labor market data has been similarly sobering this week. The ADP employment report showed fewer jobs than expected were added in February: 117,000 versus the 177,000 forecast. Even though the private sector report and the government’s official figures, which are due Friday at 8:30 am ET, aren’t correlated, it’s not a great sign.
Economists predict 182,000 jobs were added in February, up from 49,000 added at the start of the year. If this holds true, America would still be down 9.7 million jobs from February 2020, when the unemployment rate was near a 50-year low of 3.5%.
But the expectations are widely different, ranging from a 100,000 jobs lost to 500,000 jobs gained, according to Refinitiv.
“We expect the US jobs recovery to show some encouraging progress in February,” said Lydia Boussour, lead US economist at Oxford Economics.
Improvements in health and economic conditions along with the rollout of coronavirus vaccines and the reopening of the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses will help job creation, she said. Meanwhile, the winter storms that haunted much of the nation in February are expected to have a small affect on the jobs situation, according to Boussour.
The unemployment rate, which doesn’t count people who have had to drop out of the workforce altogether, is expected to stay put at 6.3%. Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the real unemployment rate was likely closer to 10%.