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Weekly initial jobless claims fall below 1 million for first time in 21 weeks

Economists have repeatedly warned that the nation will not see any recovery in the labor market until there is a vaccine.
Image: A woman walks past a shuttered bar following the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease outbreak
A woman walks past a shuttered bar in New York on Aug. 7, 2020.Carlo Allegri / Reuters

For the first time in almost five months, weekly initial jobless claims have fallen below 1 million, according to data from the Department of Labor.

Around 963,000 people filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week, beating economists' predictions of 1.1 million.

While Thursday's number is down from the newly revised previous weekly total of 1.19 million, the continuation of historically high levels is an indication that companies are still trimming their workforce to survive the pandemic — or closing their doors for good.

This month alone, famous names such as Lord & Taylor, Men's Wearhouse and Stein Mart have filed for bankruptcy protection. Booking Holdings, which operates travel sites such as Kayak and, said it would be laying off 4,000 people. Nike announced it would be cutting 500 workers from its Oregon headquarters. NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News, also laid off around 10 percent of its 35,000-strong workforce, and AT&T's WarnerMedia said it will cut hundreds of employees from its payroll.

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The monthly government employment snapshot, released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, showed that total unemployment is currently at 16.3 million, a rate of 10.2 percent. In February, that number was 3.5 percent.

Economists have frequently spoken of their concern that the nation's workforce stands to see a massive shift amid the coronavirus fallout, with many workers forced to retrain or learn new skills in order to gain employment as their sector sees permanent contraction.

“It is certainly possible that we don’t come back, at least in certain sectors, in the same way as before. That will mean a large number of workers are not able to go back to the same jobs they had before the pandemic," Mary Daly, president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve, said Wednesday during an online conference.

In a separate conference, Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan said that if Americans do not comply with public health orders to contain the virus, unemployment will stay at around 9 percent until at least 2021.

“If we don’t follow that, while people may feel freer, the economy will grow slower,” Kaplan said.