803,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week

$900B stimulus deal expected to include direct payments, enhanced unemployment insurance: John Bussey

The Wall Street Journal associate editor John Bussey discusses the coronavirus vaccines, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez slamming Pelosi and Schumer’s leadership and a stimulus deal.

The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits fell for the first time in three weeks but remained elevated as a rise in COVID-19 infections and new restrictions to help curb the spread of the virus weighed on the economy.

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TOP DEMOCRATS SEE $900B COVID RELIEF PACKAGE AS JUST THE BEGINNING

Figures released Thursday by the Labor Department show 803,000 Americans filed first-time jobless claims in the week ended Dec. 19, lower than the 885,000 forecast by Refinitiv economists.

The number is nearly four times the pre-crisis level but is well below the peak of almost 7 million that was reached when stay-at-home orders were first issued in March. Almost 70 million Americans, or about 40% of the labor force, have filed for unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

The number of people who are continuing to receive unemployment benefits fell to 5.337 million, a decline of about 170,000 from the previous week. The report shows that roughly 20.4 million Americans were receiving some kind of jobless benefit through Dec. 5.

12 MILLION AMERICANS FACE LOSS OF UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS

The latest unemployment data comes as President Trump threatens to torpedo the $900 billion coronavirus relief deal that Congress passed on Monday night after a half-year of painstaking negotiations.

The bill, which was attached to the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending measure, would send direct payments of up to $600 for Americans earning less than $87,000, extend federal unemployment benefits by $300 a week through mid-March and reopen the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses.

But in a video address Tuesday night, Trump called the proposed stimulus checks of $600 included in the economic relief bill "ridiculously low" and said the payments should be more than tripled — a proposal that many Democrats immediately lined up behind.

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Trump has not said whether he intends to veto the relief measure for millions of Americans, but called it a "disgrace." If the president refuses to sign the legislation, the consequences would be severe: Millions of Americans would lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas when two federal programs expire just as the economy teeters on the brink of another slowdown, and the government would shut down Monday.

"As with most things legislative, the stimulus package was imperfect, very late, but better late than never and far better than nothing," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate. "It would make the difference between an economy that could contract in the first quarter, versus remaining above water."

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