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Relief package starts to make a difference (before it's even signed)

It's not often Congress passes a law in the afternoon, and saves 13,000 jobs within a couple of hours, but that's precisely what happened yesterday.
Image: American Airlines
A Boeing 737 flown by American Airlines passes by the Lockheed Martin building as it takes off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on March 11, 2019.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP - Getty Images file

As regular readers know, progress on weekly unemployment claims has been hit or miss in recent months, though the new report from the Labor Department pointed in a much more encouraging direction.

In the week ending March 6, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 712,000, a decrease of 42,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 9,000 from 745,000 to 754,000. The 4-week moving average was 759,000, a decrease of 34,000 from the previous week's revised average.

The good news is, this new figure reflects a vast improvement over the figures from a couple of months ago, it exceeded expectations, and it's the second best report since the start of the COVID crisis a year ago. The bad news is, this is nevertheless the 51st consecutive week in which the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits was worse than at any time during the Great Recession.

In other words, for those eager to suggest the economy has recovered, and efforts such as American Rescue Plan are no longer necessary, the data still suggests otherwise, even as we see evidence of gradual progress.

That said, there is reason to believe we're about to see a whole lot more progress. In early February, for example, American Airlines announced it was sending furlough notices to roughly 13,000 employees, citing, among other things, weak travel demand amidst the pandemic.

Yesterday afternoon, the company reversed course.

Thousands of American Airlines workers who recently received furlough warnings will no longer have to worry about their state of their jobs due to the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that was passed by Congress Wednesday. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom made the announcement in a letter sent to 13,000 employees shortly after the bill was voted on.

"To those who had received notices warning of furloughs: those are happily canceled -- you can tear them up!" the letter read. It added, "If you see your local Congressional representative on a flight, be sure to thank her or him for their work this past year and for recognizing the noble work you all do every day."

Of course, if they see congressional Republicans, they may want to withhold some of that gratitude, given that every GOP member of Congress voted against the COVID relief package.

Regardless, it's not often Congress passes a law in the afternoon, and saves 13,000 jobs within a couple of hours, but that's precisely what happened yesterday.