Applications for U.S. state unemployment benefits held steady last week, a sign extensive job losses are persisting as the nation struggles to control the coronavirus. Initial jobless claims in regular state programs were unchanged at 884,000 in the week ended Sept. 5, Labor Department data showed Thursday. Due to a change in the methodology for seasonal adjustment earlier this month, the figure is directly comparable only to the prior week. Continuing claims — the total number of Americans claiming ongoing unemployment assistance in those programs — rose 93,000 to 13.4 million in the week ended Aug. 29.

U.S. unemployment, continuing claims point to persisting job losses

The median estimates in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for 850,000 initial claims in the latest week and 12.9 million continuing claims. Before the pandemic, initial claims were running at about 212,000 a week, with continuing claims at 1.7 million. The unexpectedly high levels of claims underscore the uneven nature of the labor market’s recovery. Many businesses are hiring or bringing back workers, yet millions remain unemployed and others are on the chopping block as more companies announce job cuts and small-business aid runs dry. With lawmakers at a stalemate over additional jobless benefits and President Donald Trump’s stopgap aid ending, unemployed Americans face even tougher challenges than before. In addition, virus cases are climbing again in some parts of the country.

Before seasonal adjustments, initial claims in state programs rose by about 20,000 to 857,000, led by increases in California and Texas. The rise in California could partially reflect temporary job losses due to wildfires in the state, said Matthew Luzzetti, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank AG. “It’s still historically-high jobless claims, but I don’t want to overemphasize one single data point given that there is some uncertainty about what’s driving it,” Luzzetti said.