The high level of layoffs are occurring as a spike in Covid-19 cases has forced six states to reverse their move to reopen businesses.
Another 1.3 million US workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, as the slowdown in the pace of layoffs amid the coronavirus crisis continued, the government reported on Thursday.
The figure for the week ended July 4 was 99,000 lower than the prior week, showing a steady decline as the world's largest economy gradually reopens and workers are recalled to their jobs.
But the level remains far higher than any pre-pandemic week. In the same week of 2019, only 211,000 people filed initial claims for jobless benefits.
The decline in the latest week slowed the four-week moving average to 1.44 million, the Labor Department reported, while 18 million remained on the jobless rolls through the week ending on June 27.
Economic normalcy a far reach
US President Donald Trump, who is counting on a strong economy to help in his tough reelection bid in November, has cheered the recent signs of recovery in the US labour market.
But economists and the Congressional Budget Office warn it will take years for employment to return to pre-pandemic levels.
And the US could suffer a second wave of layoffs as more states see spiking case counts, and once expanded jobless benefits expire.
"Filings remain high and are declining at a stubbornly slow pace," said Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics.
"We could see upward pressure in coming weeks in response to a surge in virus cases and related closures of businesses."
States backtrack in reopening
The persistently elevated level of layoffs are occurring as a spike in virus cases has forced six states to reverse their move to reopen businesses. Those six – Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan and Texas – make up one-third of the US economy. Fifteen other states have suspended their reopenings. Collectively, the pullback has stalled a tentative recovery in the job market and is likely triggering additional layoffs.
'Crisis is being handled'
The unemployment rate in June dropped to 11.1 percent as 4.8 million jobs were added, with huge gains in the leisure and hospitality sector, which suffered the biggest blows from Covid-19 restrictions on travel and restaurants.
But Trump says the "crisis is being handled" and the economy is "roaring back."
In an interview on Thursday on CNBC, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested that the administration might support an extension of supplemental unemployment aid but at a reduced level.
“We’re going to make sure people are (incentivised) to go back to jobs,” Mnuchin said.