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Unemployment claims offer a reminder: we have a long way to go

While there's reason to believe conditions will improve in the coming weeks and months, today's report stood as a reminder: it's going to take time.
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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

As regular readers know, progress on weekly unemployment claims has been hit or miss in recent months, and while last week's data was heartening, the new report from the Labor Department was more discouraging. CNBC reported this morning:

First-time claims for jobless benefits were higher than expected last week, with 719,000 more workers heading to the unemployment line, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The total compared to the 675,000 estimate from Dow Jones and was above last week's downwardly revised 658,000.

That last point about the revision is of note: the initial reporting found a pandemic-era low last week, and the actual tally proved to be even better than we first thought.

To contextualize the numbers a bit, it was one year ago last week when jobless claims first spiked in response to the COVID-19 crisis, climbing to over 3 million. That weekly total soon after reached nearly 7 million.

As regular readers know, we've seen gradual and painfully slow improvements, but it'd be overly optimistic to think we'll see progress that moves in a straight line. Today's report is proof of that.

This is the 54th consecutive week in which the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits was worse than at any time during the Great Recession, and while there's reason to believe conditions will improve in the coming weeks and months, it's going to take time.

It was against this backdrop that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued yesterday, in response to President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan, that the economy is "getting better on its own" and that another "massive spending bill" is not needed. The White House, not surprisingly, offered a different perspective.

"I think the 10 million people who are still out of work would disagree," Psaki said during an appearance on CNN. "Certainly we're seeing some positive signs in the data, but there's no question that more needs to be done. And this is about creating jobs now. It's also about investing in industries of the future."

The official jobs report for March comes out tomorrow morning. Watch this space.