Applications for unemployment benefits rose for the second week in a row last week, the latest sign that the nationwide surge in coronavirus cases is threatening to undermine the economic recovery.
More than 827,000 people filed first-time applications for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Wednesday. That was up 78,000 from a week earlier, before adjusting for seasonal patterns, and more than 100,000 from the first week of November, when weekly filings hit their lowest level since pandemic-induced layoffs began last spring.
Another 312,000 people filed for benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which covers freelancers, self-employed workers and others who don’t qualify for state benefits. And 4.5 million people are now receiving benefits under a separate program that extends payments during the pandemic, a total that has been rising as more people reach the end of their state benefits. Both those programs expire at the end of the year.
Unemployment filings have fallen substantially since last spring, when more than six million people a week were applying for benefits. But progress has stalled in recent months, and the data reported Wednesday suggests it could be going in reverse.
Other evidence tells a similar story. Consumer confidence fell in November, the Conference Board reported Tuesday, and private-sector data on job postings, hours worked and consumer spending show either a loss of momentum or outright declines in November.
“We have definitely seen a slowdown since Labor Day, and in the last few weeks, it’s actually gone into a decline,” said Dave Gilbertson, a vice president at UKG, which provides time-tracking software to about 30,000 U.S. businesses.
Economists worry that the slowdown could deepen in coming weeks, as consumers pull back on spending and cities and states reimpose business restrictions, something that has already begun to happen in California, Michigan and other states.
Unlike in the spring, households and businesses will have to weather the latest shutdowns largely on their own. Federal programs that provided trillions of dollars of support to small businesses and unemployed workers expired over the summer, and efforts to revive them have stalled in Congress. Many of the remaining programs run out at the end of the year.
“Part of the reason the recovery has done so well is because there was so much assistance for affected businesses and workers, and this is just really not the time to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter. More aid, she said, is necessary to “prevent this temporary disruption from becoming permanent destruction.”
Millions of Americans will exhaust their unemployment benefits in just a month.
Congress last spring created two programs to expand and extend the unemployment insurance system during the pandemic. But those programs expire at the end of the year; the week of Christmas will be the last week for which recipients can claim benefits.
Data from the Labor Department on Thursday showed that nearly 14 million Americans were receiving benefits under the two programs as of early November.
Roughly nine million of them were enrolled in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which covers freelancers, self-employed workers and others who don’t qualify for regular state benefits. That program has been plagued by fraud and double-counting, and many economists believe the Labor Department’s count inflates the true total. Still, by any measure there are millions of people enrolled in the program who will lose their benefits when it expires.
The other 4.5 million are receiving payments through a separate program called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which adds 13 weeks of benefits to the 26 weeks available in most states. Enrollment in that program has been rising rapidly as more people reach the end of their regular state benefits.
Some of those people will qualify for a separate federal extended benefits program that existed before the pandemic. But that program isn’t available in every state.
For workers, the timing could scarcely be worse.
“We’re going to be in the heart of winter, virus cases are likely to be through the roof and the holiday hiring season is over,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the career site Indeed. “It puts those who are potentially rolling off of those benefit programs in a really precarious situation.”
Adding to the risk: Federal rules to block evictions and allow borrowers to defer payments on home mortgages and student loans also expire at the end of the year. The Trump administration could choose to extend them, but if it doesn’t, families could lose their only source of income and lose the protections keeping them in their homes.
“It’s sort of like running into a giant brick wall,” said Elizabeth Pancotti, a policy researcher who co-wrote a recent report on the benefits cliff. “Not that there’s a good time for all these programs to end, but maybe all on the same day wasn’t a great idea.”
The British economy will suffer its worst recession in more than three centuries this year, and the scarring will take years to overcome, the country’s independent fiscal watchdog said Wednesday.
The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast an economic contraction in Britain of 11.3 percent this year, one of the steepest declines among developed countries as a result of the pandemic.
“Our health emergency is not yet over and our economic emergency has only just begun,” Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the Exchequer, told lawmakers in Parliament before he revealed the forecasts.
Britain already knew it was in the midst of a historic recession. But the figures from the Office of Budget Responsibility, which provides forecasts on the economy and public finances twice a year, were its first complete forecasts since March, before the impact of the pandemic had been known and before spending measures were taken to support the economy.
Britain’s economy won’t return to its pre-crisis levels until the end of 2022 and long-term damage means that the economy will be 3 percent smaller at the end of 2025 than the agency predicted eight months ago. Unemployment levels will peak at 7.5 percent next year, with 2.6 million people out of work. At the end of 2025, five years on from the time the virus reached Britain, the unemployment rate will be 4.4 percent, still higher than the rate before the pandemic.
Mr. Sunak said the government would have spent more 280 billion pounds ($374 billion) on its economic response to the pandemic. And to pay for it, the public borrowing will be £394 billion this year, 19 percent of Britain’s gross domestic product and the highest annual percent except for World War I and II.
Mr. Sunak announced plans to keep spending on the nation’s health service, education and infrastructure plans, but he also said there would be spending cuts, including a freeze in pay increases for public sector workers who are not in the National Health Service. He also said Britain would reduce its commitment to international aid: instead of spending 0.7 percent of gross domestic product, as it normally does, next year it will allocate 0.5 percent.
“During a domestic fiscal emergency, when we need to prioritize our limited resources on jobs and public spending, sticking rigidly to spending 0.7 percent of our national income on overseas aid is difficult to justify to the British people,” Mr. Sunak said.
A day after the Dow hit 30,000 and the S&P 500 also reached a record high, stocks in the United States were set to take a break from their rally on Wednesday. Futures were slightly lower as investors awaited the latest update on the labor market, which will be published before markets close for the Thanksgiving holiday. European stocks were lower, while Asian markets ended the day mixed.
Shares of Gap were down nearly 10 percent in premarket trading after the retailer reported financial results on Tuesday that fell below investors’ expectations. Net sales were flat in the three months that ended in October, the company said.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 0.2 percent. The FTSE 100 in Britain fell 0.4 percent, the DAX in Germany dropped 0.3 percent, and the CAC in France was little changed. The Nikkei 225 in Japan closed 0.5 percent higher and the Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong rose 0.3 percent.
On Wednesday, weekly data on the number of new applications for state unemployment benefits will be published. Last week, claims unexpectedly increased for the first time since early October. It’s a reminder of the challenge facing the United States economy as the country recorded two million coronavirus cases in the past two weeks and local restrictions tightened. The promise of effective vaccines helping to revive businesses is still months away because of the time necessary to manufacture and roll out the doses.
The New York Stock Exchange will be closed on Thursday and will close early on Friday at 1 p.m.
In Europe, some consumer stocks were higher including Unilever and L’Oreal. But most of the market was in the red. Banks led the declines: ABN Amro, based in the Netherlands, and British banks Lloyds and Barclays all fell nearly 4 percent.
Copper prices rose to $7,293 per metric ton in London on Tuesday, the highest in six years, as prospects of the economic recovery met with concerns about supply constraints for the metal. “Non-energy commodities face immediate upside supported by Chinese demand and adverse weather shocks,” Goldman Sachs analysts recently wrote in a note to clients. “We expect copper prices to end 2021 at $7,500.”
Following a slow rollout of rules governing opportunity zones, a program to encourage investment in low-income neighborhoods, developers have pumped billions of dollars into the zones nationwide, even in the midst of the pandemic, writes Joe Gose for The New York Times.
The opportunity zone program, which was part of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, allows investors to defer capital gains taxes and receive other tax benefits for making equity investments in real estate and operating businesses in underinvested areas.
But the program has its challenges:
Some critics charge investors are using it simply to avoid paying taxes.
Others point to a lack of transparency that makes it tough to gauge whether the investments are making a real impact on communities.
The Trump administration has resisted providing much federal reporting or oversight.
Proponents of the initiative are pushing back against the criticism, saying the opportunity zone program is needed to attract real estate funding to underserved areas. And some states and cities are using it to help steer investment into their underserved neighborhoods and track how much residents are benefiting from it.
“There will be developers who make a bunch of money building fancy apartments, there’s no doubt about that,” said P. David Bramble, a managing partner for MCB Real Estate, a developer based in Baltimore. “But investors are providing capital to projects in low-income areas that they otherwise would have ignored because of demographics. That’s a win.”
The mass cancellation of trade fairs has been a disaster for hotels, restaurants and taxi drivers around the world, but Germany has been hit particularly hard.
The country has four of the world’s 10 largest trade venues, more than any other nation, and trade fairs have played a central role in German economic life at least since the Middle Ages, when merchants convened in cities like Leipzig to trade wine, furs, grain and gossip, The New York Times’s Jack Ewing reports.
In a good year, trade fairs generate 28 billion euros, or $33 billion, in revenue for German convention centers, hotels, restaurants, airlines and various service providers, according to the Ifo Institute in Munich, a research organization. That revenue has largely evaporated.
Conventions are an underappreciated driver of economic growth worldwide, responsible for about 1.3 million jobs. Trade fairs generated revenue of $137 billion in 2018, as much as General Motors, according to the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry in Paris.
But revenue this year is down by two-thirds after the cancellation of events like the Mobile World Congress (which drew more than 100,000 visitors in 2019) in Barcelona, Spain, or the North American International Auto Show in Detroit (which drew more than 750,000).
Some fairs moved online when the pandemic made live gatherings inadvisable. After the cancellation of Leben und Tod, or Life and Death, a funeral industry event normally held in Freiburg, Germany, organizers turned to the internet. They livestreamed presentations on topics such as “Fear of Dying” and “Burial Preparation: Which Shoes for the Final Journey?”
But virtual events do not fill hotels or restaurants, or provide work for the carpenters who build the often elaborate company displays.