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Jobless claims drop to outbreak low

Nearly 26,000 laid-off Ohioans and 1.2 million Americans sought jobless aid last week, both declines from the previous week and the lowest numbers posted during the viral outbreak.

Jobs reports Thursday show claims fell compared to the previous week, by nearly 2,000 in Ohio — the third consecutive week the state has witnessed a drop — and by 249,000 across the U.S. after rising two straight weeks.

Yet claims remain at stunningly high levels in Ohio and across the country, proof the virus hasn’t relinquished its grip.

The 25,952 initial claims filed last week in Ohio are 268 percent greater than the number of claims filed the week ending March 14 — the week prior to Ohio’s stay-at-home order, which sent the state’s economy into a tailspin as businesses shed workers and closed.

For the U.S., last week marked the 20th in a row that at least 1 million people have sought benefits. Before the pandemic struck, the number of Americans seeking unemployment checks had never surpassed 700,000 in a week.

“After stagnating from mid-June to mid-July, initial claims for unemployment insurance fell to a recovery-to-date low the week of Aug. 1,” Bill Adams, senior economist for Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank, said. “Even so, both initial and continuing claims are at extremely high levels and indicate that many employers continued to lay off workers in July.

“Further complicating the picture, the expiration of extended unemployment insurance benefits on July 31 may be clouding the signal from the claims data,” Adams said.

The $600 weekly expanded jobless benefit expired Friday. That, Adams said, may have discouraged some people who lost their jobs from applying.

“Even so, the drop in the latest week is positive and suggests the recovery that began in May and June probably continued in July,” Adams said.

The number of initial claims in Ohio last week was 248,263 fewer than the peak of claims since March 28, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The state also reported 404,434 continued claims for the week, 371,868 fewer than the peak earlier this year.

Over the last 20 weeks, more than 1.5 million claims have been filed in Ohio. And over the same period, the state has paid more than $5.8 billion in unemployment compensation to more than 771,000 Ohioans.

The state also has distributed more than $4.9 billion in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments to people not eligible for regular unemployment compensation, such as self-employed or gig workers. The number of claimants for PUA funding is more than 503,000.

Already grappling with some of the highest unemployment rates in Ohio, 643 new claims were filed last week in Trumbull County, up from 480 the previous week. In Mahoning County, there were 525 new claims, down a modest 40 from the previous week.

The government today is expected to announce a sizable job gain of 1.6 million for July. However, that gain is offset by massive cuts during the outbreak and means that barely 40 percent of jobs lost to the virus have been recovered.

More important for Adams, however, is the near-term outlook if the $600 benefit is not extended.

“If not, aggregate household income will drop by about $75 billion per month beginning in August, which would cause a large net decline in household income in the third quarter and create a very large headwind to the recovery,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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