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48M Americans filed jobless claims in 15 weeks

Jessica Menton, USA TODAY

The number of Americans who are seeking unemployment benefits remains high as some states in the U.S. halt reopening the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

About 1.43 million workers filed first-time claims for unemployment insurance last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's down slightly from 1.48 million in the prior week and the 13th straight week of declines.

That latest round of applications means more than 48 million Americans have made initial jobless benefits claims in just 15 weeks. Initial jobless claims are the nation's most reliable gauge of layoffs.

To be sure, separate data released Thursday showed the U.S. economy added a record 4.8 million jobs in June as states continued to allow businesses shuttered by the pandemic to reopen and more Americans went back to work, even as massive layoffs have persisted. The unemployment rate fell to 11.1% from 13.3% in May, the Labor Department said.

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Still, the data for the monthly jobs report was collected in mid-June before a recent surge in virus cases. And the labor market is still facing a net loss of 14.7 million job losses from the coronavirus recession.

Economists continue to see a high level of new layoffs with Thursday's weekly jobless claims figures. 

“About 7.5 million people returned to work in May and June following a temporary layoff, which is quite a rebound,” Mike Fratantoni, senior vice president and chief economist at Mortgage Bankers Association, said in a note. “However, there are still 10.6 million people with this status, and the longer they remain out of work, the greater the risk that their situation becomes permanent.”

The latest jobless claims data marked the 15th consecutive week that initial claims stayed above 1 million.

Fewer Americans are seeking unemployment claims, but the number receiving any type of benefit is extraordinarily high. The number of continuing claims remained high, suggesting some workers aren't getting rehired, a sign the recovery in the labor market will be slow, economists say.

The total of those receiving benefits for consecutive weeks climbed by 59,000 to 19.29 million.

The U.S. economy entered a recession in February after the pandemic battered the global economy, ending the longest expansion on record. Economists are worried about states having to roll back their reopening plans as infections surge in the Sun Belt.

“Worrisome signs have emerged in recent days regarding a pullback in store traffic and spending likely linked to the resurgence of COVID-19,” Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate, said in a note. “While the economy is widely thought to be rebounding now that we’ve quietly slipped into the third quarter, the strength and sustainability of the rebound remain at risk."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Layoffs: 1.4M workers file for unemployment as COVID-19 signals slow recovery