The number of Tennesseans filing for new jobless benefits fell to the lowest level in more than four months last week, but the number of newly laid off workers seeking jobless benefits was still nearly nine times higher than a year ago in Tennessee and continued to rise nationwide.
Initial jobless claims tracked by the U.S. Department of Labor surpassed 1.4 million last week, a jump of 12,000 over the previous week, including 19461 new claims in Tennessee.
The continuing wave of job cuts is further evidence of the devastation the coronavirus outbreak has unleashed on the U.S. economy even as the extra $600 a week benefits paid to the 17 million Americans collecting traditional jobless benefits came to an end this week.
"The extended unemployment benefits set to expire for millions of the nation's jobless workers will further impact the ailing economy as consumers struggle to pay for goods and services," said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of global outplacement and executive and business coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. "The businesses that may have been benefiting from those consumers and shoring up neighborhoods may also begin to close at a faster clip."
The Labor Department's report Thursday marked the 19th straight week that more than 1 million people have applied for unemployment benefits. Before the coronavirus hit hard in March, the number of Americans seeking unemployment checks had never exceeded 700,000 in any one week, even during the Great Recession.
Although initial jobless claims fell in Tennessee last week compared with the previous week, the number of new applicants nationwide was up by 12,000 from the week before, the second straight increase. New claims had dropped for 15 straight weeks, from mid-April through early July, as states began to reopen their economies, a move that is now stalling.
Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, said the jobs numbers were disheartening.
"A resurgence in virus cases has resulted in a pause or rollback of reopenings across states and the pace of layoffs is likely to pick up just as expanded unemployment benefits are expiring," Farooqi said. "The risk of temporary job losses becoming permanent is high from repeated closures of businesses. That could result in an even slower pace of recovery."
A resurgence of cases in the South and the West has forced many bars, restaurants, beauty salons and other businesses to close again or reduce occupancy. Between June 21 and July 19, for example, the percentage of Texas bars that were closed shot up from 25% to 73%; likewise, 75% of California beauty shops were shuttered July 19, up from 40% just a week earlier; according to the data firm Womply.
And many states have imposed restrictions on visitors from states that have reported high level of virus cases, thereby hurting hotels, airlines and other industries that depend on travel.
Since March 15, 759,584 Tennesseans have filed for jobless benefits, or more than one of every five workers on the job in February before the coronavirus pandemic began to shut down the economy.
So far, the economic impact from those job losses has been minimized by the most generous jobless benefits in history with an extra $600 a week provided in a federal supplement in addition to the maximum $275 a week paid in state unemployment benefits in Tennessee and the $365 weekly maximum in Georgia.
The Georgia Department of Labor said Thursday it has paid out more than $11 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits since the middle of March. These payments include regular state unemployment insurance (UI), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and State Extended Benefits (SEB).
"Record breaking payout rates represent a new standard for this department," Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said.
Altogether, the Labor Department said that 30.2 million people are receiving some form of unemployment benefits, though the figure may be inflated by double-counting by states.