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The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 870,000 workers filed for unemployment compensation last week, a slight increase from the week before and another sign that the coronavirus pandemic is continuing to impede the American economic recovery.
Millions of workers remain unemployed in the United States, with the jobless rate at 8.6% in mid-September, and economists saying the figure could remain elevated for months. Only about half of the 22 million U.S. jobs lost in the coronavirus pandemic has been recovered, with the world's biggest economy adding 1.4 million jobs in August.
Weekly initial claims for jobless benefits seemed to have stabilized somewhat below 900,000 in recent weeks. Last week's 870,000 figure was up 4,000 from the revised level of the week before.
The recent weekly claims figures are well below the 6.9 million record number of claims filed in late March as the coronavirus swept into the United States but remain above the highest level before this year in records going back to the 1960s.
U.S. employers have called back millions of workers who were laid off during mandatory business shutdowns earlier this year, yet some hard-hit businesses have been slow to ramp up their operations again or closed permanently, leaving workers idled or searching for new employment.
During the worst of the pandemic, the U.S. unemployment rate topped out at 14.7% in April.
With six weeks to go before the November 3 presidential and congressional elections, President Donald Trump and Republican and Democratic lawmakers in politically fractious Washington have been unable to reach an agreement on extending federal unemployment benefits and how much should be paid.
Until the end of July, the national government sent an extra $600 a week to unemployed workers on top of less generous state jobless benefits. The Republican-controlled Senate two weeks ago tried to win approval of $300-a-week payments through the end of the year, but Democrats blocked the proposal as too small and continued to call for resumption of the $600 weekly payments.
The rejected Republican coronavirus relief package would have cost between $500 billion and $700 billion, on top of the $3 trillion approved months ago at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
Trump has urged his Republican colleagues in Congress to approve more spending in another coronavirus aid deal. A week ago, he said on Twitter, "Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!)."
The top two congressional Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, praised Trump's stance.
"We look forward to hearing from the president's negotiators that they will finally meet us halfway with a bill that is equal to the massive health and economic crises gripping our nation," Pelosi and Schumer said.
But no deal has been reached as the country's world-leading coronavirus death toll topped 200,000 this week.
Democrats have called for a $2.2 trillion relief package, but possibly could settle for less than that. Whatever figure, if any, is agreed on is likely to come soon. Lawmakers want to leave Washington to return to their home states for a month of campaigning for re-election ahead of the elections.
As the first round of unemployment payments expired in July, Trump signed an executive order calling for $400 a week in extra payments for a few weeks. But not all states delivered the reduced payments to jobless workers, and now that money is running out.
While the U.S. has been adding more jobs in recent months, the pace of the recovery has seemed to slow. The 1.4 million jobs added in August included the Census Bureau's temporary hiring of about 240,000 workers to help conduct the once-a-decade count of the U.S. population.