Weekly Jobless Claims Rise Slightly as Boosted Unemployment Expiration Date Looms

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New jobless claims are up -- but not drastically.

For weeks, the number of newly filed unemployment claims had been on a steady decline. The week ending Aug. 21 broke that trend. Last week, new jobless claims totaled 353,000, up from an adjusted 349,000 claims the week before.

The news isn't all bad. While it would be better to see new jobless claims decline further, the reality is that this past week's numbers are pretty comparable to the previous week's, which represented a pandemic-era low. And the 353,000 claims filed are only slightly above the 350,000 claims economists were predicting.

In fact, given the havoc the Delta variant has been wreaking, it's actually pretty comforting to see a relatively stable pace of newly filed claims. There were fears that a surge in COVID-19 cases would result in restrictions or precautions with the potential to lead to further widespread job loss. But so far, that doesn't seem to be happening. Furthermore, continuing unemployment claims dropped 3,000 from the previous week to 2.86 million.

Now at this stage of the COVID-19 outbreak, steadiness on the unemployment claims front may be the best we can hope for. At the same time, now's not a great moment for people to be losing their jobs and having to file new claims. The $300 weekly boost to unemployment benefits that's still in place in roughly half of states is set to expire the first week of September. Once that happens, people will have less income to live on -- and many might struggle accordingly.

Will there be more jobless or stimulus aid?

Given that new unemployment claims have been on a decline in August compared to previous months, it's unlikely that lawmakers will take steps to extend the $300 weekly boost that's set to expire in just a couple of weeks. Many states pulled the plug on that boost weeks ago, and given that July's national unemployment rate was the lowest since the start of the pandemic, it's hard to fuel the argument for more assistance.

Similarly, at this point, it's unlikely that a fourth stimulus check will hit Americans' bank accounts this year. Not only has the economy improved, but now that the FDA has officially approved the Pfizer vaccine, we could see more people go out and get vaccinated. That could, in turn, help quell the recent COVID-19 surge and help cities all over the country avoid having to implement restrictions that hurt local economies or the broad economy itself.

Of course, once boosted unemployment comes to an end, those who are out of work may struggle to make ends meet. We could see more job applications come through once that boost ends, especially since that $300 weekly enhancement runs out at a time when schools start up again in many parts of the country, thereby solving childcare issues for out-of-work parents.

All told, there's reason to be hopeful that weekly jobless claims will, at the very least, hold relatively steady in the near term. We may see numbers flip back and forth from week to week, but as long as there isn't a sizable uptick, we can take it as a positive sign.

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