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US jobless claims decline to a still-high 900,000

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell slightly last week to 900,000, still a historically high level that points to ongoing job cuts in a raging pandemic.

The Labor Department’s report Thursday underscored that President Joe Biden has inherited an economy that faltered this winter as virus cases spiked, cold weather restricted dining and federal rescue aid expired. The government said 5.1 million Americans are continuing to receive state jobless benefits, down from 5.2 million in the previous week. That suggests that while some of the unemployed are finding jobs, others are likely using up their state benefits and transitioning to separate extended-benefit programs.

More than 10 million people are receiving aid from those extended programs, which now offer up to 50 weeks of benefits, or from a new program that provides benefits to contractors and the self-employed. All told, nearly 16 million people were on unemployment in the week that ended Jan. 2, the latest period for which data is available.

“Unemployment claims continue to show a job market unable to progress further as long as COVID-19 remains in the driver’s seat,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor. “While the vaccine offers a light at the end of the tunnel, we’re still far away from a complete reopening of the economy that could drive rehiring and stem further layoffs.”

New viral infections have begun to slow after months of relentless increases, though they remain high and are averaging about 200,000 a day. The number of deaths in the United States from the pandemic that erupted 10 months ago has surpassed 400,000.

Economists say one factor that has likely increased jobless claims in the past two weeks is a government financial aid package that was signed into law in late December.

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