The number of people claiming unemployment benefits in the US fell last week but remained higher than any time before the coronavirus pandemic.
Initial jobless claims totalled 837,000 in the week ending 26 September, down from 873,000 the week prior, according to new data from the US Labor Department.
The figure was lower than had been forecast by a poll of Reuters economists, who had estimated that there would be 850,000 applications.
Although claims are considerably below the astonishing levels seen at the beginning of the pandemic, they have now stuck at the same level since August.
In March, when the pandemic first struck the US, a record 6.9m people applied for benefits in a single week.
By contrast, the peak during the 2007-2009 financial crisis was ten times smaller, at 665,000 claims a week.
The new data suggests that the attempts to get the world’s largest economy firing again are stalling as coronavirus cases continue to grow.
It pours more pressure on lawmakers to agree a new economic stimulus package to prop up flagging businesses and protect the unemployed.
Overnight US President Donald Trump proposed a $1.5 trillion package of new measures, including a fresh $20bn handout for the US airlines.
Today, two of the US’s largest airline carriers have begun furloughing more than 32,000 employees after talks in Washington failed to reach an agreement.
House of Representative Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met on Wednesday in a bid to broker a bipartisan deal on negotiations.
Commenting on the new data, Richard Flynn, UK managing director at Charles Schwab, said: “Today’s decline in initial jobless claims shows some sign of improvement in the labour market,, but without extended supplemental unemployment benefits, the outlook for the broader economic recovery and US GDP growth remains highly uncertain.
“While equities have continued to endure another round of volatility, market technicals appear to be improving following the recent correction.
“Any progress towards a fiscal relief package may also have the potential to act as a bullish catalyst, even if market participants are already expecting it.”