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6 million people applied for unemployment a year ago. They’re still near pre-pandemic highs

A person walks under a marquis for a closed down Paramount theater in Oakland, Calif. on Feb. 12, 2021.

JOSH EDELSON | AFP | Getty Images

It’s been a year since unemployment claims peaked at nosebleed levels and signaled the depth and severity of the Covid downturn.

Yet claims for unemployment benefits persist at rates that would be considered high by the standards of past recessions, according to labor economists.

“They are still a weekly reminder of how severe this crisis has been and how deep the economic damage continues to be,” said Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at Glassdoor, a job and recruiting site.

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New claims for state benefits were about 741,000 last week through April 3, the Labor Department said Thursday. (The data don’t include an adjustment for seasonal factors.)

That’s 18,000 above the prior week and the second consecutive week claims have risen.

By comparison, almost 6.2 million Americans filed an initial claim for unemployment benefits during the same week last year, according to the labor agency.

Never before had the country seen that deluge of claims in such a compressed time frame.

Initial claims had hovered around 200,000 a week before mid-March 2020, when officials began issuing lockdown and stay-at-home orders to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

“What you’re dealing with is a whole different magnitude of initial claims,” said Stephen Wandner, a senior fellow at the National Academy of Social Insurance and a former Labor Department actuary. “A year in, we’re nothing like 6 million but we’re also not near a recovery.”

Stubbornly high

Continued volatility

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