Unemployment claims improve, but remain high

For 32 consecutive weeks, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits has been worse than anything seen during the Great Recession.
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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 24, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 751,000, a decrease of 40,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 4,000 from 787,000 to 791,000. The 4-week moving average was 787,750, a decrease of 24,500 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 32 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 discuss ever week around this time: the country still needs economic relief as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a brutal toll.

A breakthrough, however, will have to wait. The negotiations over a pre-election aid package ended this week, and while there are still some hopes for renewed talks after Election Day, the substance and the timeline will depend almost entirely on the voters' verdict.