US job market slowly improving, but still depressed

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Applications for regular US unemployment benefits fell last week, reflecting a change to seasonal adjustments that are normally designed to smooth regular swings in the data but ended up distorting figures because of the pandemic.

Initial jobless claims in state programs totalled 881 000 in the week ended 29 August, according to Labour Department data on Thursday. That follows 1.01 million in the prior week, a figure that’s not directly comparable because of a change to seasonal adjustment methodology.

On an unadjusted basis — or before any seasonal adjustments — claims rose by 7 591 to 833 352 last week, led by a 39 958 increase in California. Applications under the separate federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance programme — which targets the self-employed, gig workers and others who don’t typically qualify for state programs — jumped by about 152 000 to 759 000.

Unadjusted continuing claims fell by about 765 000 to 13.1 million.

The report reinforces the picture of a labour market that’s gradually improving while remaining depressed compared with before the pandemic. 

Just on Wednesday, United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Ford Motor Co. announced layoffs, adding to news of hundreds of thousands of job cuts or buyouts from major companies in recent weeks.

New Covid-19 infections still number in the hundreds of thousands a week, a figure that while lower than in July, indicates that it will be a while before Americans return in larger numbers to travelling and eating out.

--With assistance from Chris Middleton, Edith Moy and Sophie Caronello.

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