Progress on economic aid elusive as jobless filings remain high

As unemployment filings remain high, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans continue to resist an ambitious economic aid package.
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A person files an application for unemployment benefits on April 16, 2020, in Arlington, Va.Olivier Douliery / AFP via Getty Images file

When it comes to weekly unemployment filings, our whole understanding of "normal" flew out the window six months ago. For example, as regular readers know, it was considered a catastrophe during the Great Recession when jobless claims topped 600,000.

But in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic started taking a brutal toll on the U.S. economy, Americans confronted an entirely new set of standards -- to the point that it seemed like relatively good news last month when initial jobless claims fell below 1 million for the first time since March.

Progress has nevertheless been hit or miss, though the new report from the Labor Department this morning pointed in a more encouraging direction.

In the week ending October 17, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 787,000, a decrease of 55,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised down by 56,000 from 898,000 to 842,000. The 4-week moving average was 811,250, a decrease of 21,500 from the previous week's revised average.

It seems hard to believe, but today's report is the best we've seen on initial jobless claims since the crisis began in earnest in March. That said, we've now had 30 consecutive weeks in which the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits was worse than at any time during the Great Recession.

All of which leads us back to the point we discussed last week at this time: the country still needs economic relief as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a brutal toll.

A breakthrough, however, remains elusive. Senate Republicans held an unsuccessful show vote yesterday on a "skinny" aid package, even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continued their negotiations.

The California Democrat had originally set a deadline for Tuesday, at which point she was prepared to give up on a pre-election agreement, but the discussions have apparently been constructive enough that Pelosi has extended her self-imposed deadline in the hopes of reaching a breakthrough this week.

But even if a bipartisan deal comes together, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made clear that he and his Republican conference have no real interest in passing a robust economic package. Would Donald Trump be able to twist the arms of his GOP allies and give the economy a boost? Watch this space.