Millions of Americans Are Calling In Sick, Stunting the Recovery

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-12-31/covid-keeps-millions-from-work-just-as-u-s-economy-loses-steam

Covid Keeps Millions From Work Just as U.S. Economy Loses Steam

Amid the surge in the ranks of the unemployed during the pandemic, another crucial problem in the labor market has gone mostly overlooked: Workers are calling out sick in record numbers this year.

Whether it’s because they have Covid-19 themselves, are worried about getting it or are taking care of someone who already has it, the number of workers who’ve missed days on the job has doubled in the pandemic.

What’s more, unlike the jobless rate, which has steadily declined from its April peak, the rate of abseenteism — as it is called by economists — has remained stubbornly high. Almost 1.8 million workers were absent in November because of illness, nearly matching the record 2 million set back in April, according to Labor Department data.

These lost days of work are sapping an economic recovery that’s been progressing in fits and starts for much of the past several months. While some indicators have improved markedly, others such as retail sales and consumer spending and incomes have weakened as the pandemic rages on and local governments impose fresh restrictions on businesses and travel.

Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Plc, said that the vaccine could start driving down absenteeism by the second quarter. Until then, he said, the missed work is leading to supply chain disruptions.

Absenteeism “could lead to shortages, it could lead to higher prices and more restrained output,” Gapen said.

With about 1.5 million new cases per week and deaths at a record pace, employee absenteeism may remain elevated for some time, especially in early 2021 before vaccines are widely distributed and with the rollout in the U.S. moving slower than government officials expected.

Factory Workers

While the Labor Department data tracks people currently in the labor force who are out sick, a separate survey by the Census Bureau captures an even wider view of the challenge. Its latest Household Pulse Survey — based on responses in late November and early December — estimates that more than 11 million people weren’t working because of the virus. The figures also include those who refrained from working because they were worried about getting or spreading the virus, and those caring for someone with symptoms.

The effects of missing workers are especially concentrated in manufacturing. Absenteeism, combined with short-term shutdowns to sanitize facilities and difficulties in returning and hiring workers, limit the sector’s growth potential, according to Timothy Fiore, chair of the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Business Survey Committee.

The group’s gauge of factory activity grew at a slower pace in November, with the employment component falling back to a level that indicates contraction.

“It’s not a lack of work,” Fiore said on a recent call with reporters, noting absenteeism especially for low- to medium-skill roles. “It’s a lack of people.”

In addition to temporarily absent workers, the manufacturing sector has 525,000 job openings, the most in Labor records back to 2000.

U.S. job openings in manufacturing are at their highest level on record

Auto plants are feeling the effects. General Motors Co. put white-collar employees on the production floor in August to cope with high absenteeism amid strong demand. Volkswagen AG Chief Financial Officer Frank Witter has said high levels of missing staff left the automaker “at times struggling to get all the cars built for customer orders.”

U.S. businesses have reported that surging cases precipitated plant closings and infection fears, adding to labor challenges including absenteeism and attrition, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest Beige Book summary of economic conditions. Manufacturers in the Chicago region have used overtime to make up for staff shortages, the Dec. 2 report said.

Sick Leave

For office workers, 90% of professionals said before the pandemic they’d sometimes go to work sick, according to a 2019 study by staffing firm Accountemps. Covid changed the conversation, and more employees are staying home to protect themselves and others.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act earlier this year made the decision to stay home easier for some Americans by allowing two weeks of paid sick leave for certain employees. The law also allows leave for those unable to work because they must care for a child.

The latest stimulus bill, signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 27, includes an extension of the act through March 31, but makes paid leave voluntary for employers rather than mandatory as it was in the first iteration. That may continue the trend of workers staying home depending on how many employers choose to grant the leave.

The act, however, excludes essential workers, which means those employed at facilities such as meatpacking plants can’t take advantage of the policy. That in turn can lead to workplace outbreaks and further disrupt production.

With fewer employees at work, slaughter rates at U.S. meat plants fell in the third quarter. Tyson Foods Inc. Chief Executive Officer Dean Banks said on a recent earnings call that absenteeism has “increased the cost and complexity of our operations” and that the company expects that to continue in 2021.

As thousands of athletes get coronavirus tests, nurses wonder: What about us?

On her day off not long ago, emergency room nurse Jane Sandoval sat with her husband and watched her favorite NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers. She’s off every other Sunday, and even during the coronavirus pandemic, this is something of a ritual. Jane and Carlos watch, cheer, yell — just one couple’s method of escape.

“It makes people feel normal,” she says.

For Sandoval, though, it has become more and more difficult to enjoy as the season — and the pandemic — wears on. Early in the season, the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan was one of five coaches fined for violating the league’s requirement that all sideline personnel wear face coverings. Jane noticed, even as coronavirus cases surged again in California and across the United States, that Levi’s Stadium was considering admitting fans to watch games.

But the hardest thing to ignore, Sandoval says, is that when it comes to coronavirus testing, this is a nation of haves and have-nots.

Among the haves are professional and college athletes, in particular those who play football. From Nov. 8 to 14, the NFL administered 43,148 tests to 7,856 players, coaches and employees. Major college football programs supply dozens of tests each day, an attempt — futile as it has been — to maintain health and prevent schedule interruptions. Major League Soccer administered nearly 5,000 tests last week, and Major League Baseball conducted some 170,000 tests during its truncated season.

Sandoval, meanwhile, is a 58-year-old front-line worker who regularly treats patients either suspected or confirmed to have been infected by the coronavirus. In eight months, she has never been tested. She says her employer, California Pacific Medical Center, refuses to provide testing for its medical staff even after possible exposure.

Watching sports, then, no longer represents an escape from reality for Sandoval. Instead, she says, it’s a signal of what the nation prioritizes.

“There’s an endless supply in the sports world,” she says of coronavirus tests. “You’re throwing your arms up. I like sports as much as the next person. But the disparity between who gets tested and who doesn’t, it doesn’t make any sense.”

This month, registered nurses gathered in Los Angeles to protest the fact that UCLA’s athletic department conducted 1,248 tests in a single week while health-care workers at UCLA hospitals were denied testing. Last week National Nurses United, the country’s largest nursing union, released the results of a survey of more than 15,000 members. About two-thirds reported they had never been tested.

Since August, when NFL training camps opened, the nation’s most popular and powerful sports league — one that generates more than $15 billion in annual revenue — has conducted roughly 645,000 coronavirus tests.

“These athletes and teams have a stockpile of covid testing, enough to test them at will,” says Michelle Gutierrez Vo, another registered nurse and sports fan in California. “And it’s painful to watch. It seemed like nobody else mattered or their lives are more important than ours.”

Months into the pandemic, and with vaccines nearing distribution, testing in the United States remains something of a luxury. Testing sites are crowded, and some patients still report waiting days for results. Sandoval said nurses who suspect they’ve been exposed are expected to seek out a testing site on their own, at their expense, and take unpaid time while they wait for results — in effect choosing between their paycheck and their health and potentially that of others.

“The current [presidential] administration did not focus on tests and instead focused on the vaccine,” says Mara Aspinall, a professor of biomedical diagnostics at Arizona State University. “We should have focused with the same kind of ‘warp speed’ on testing. Would we still have needed a vaccine? Yes, but we would’ve saved more lives in that process and given more confidence to people to go to work.”

After a four-month shutdown amid the pandemic’s opening wave, professional sports returned in July. More than just a contest on television, it was, in a most unusual year, a symbol of comfort and routine. But as the sports calendar has advanced and dramatic adjustments have been made, it has become nearly impossible to ignore how different everything looks, sounds and feels.

Stadiums are empty, or mostly empty, while some sports have bubbles and others just pretend their spheres are impermeable. Coaches stand on the sideline with fogged-up face shields; rosters and schedules are constantly reshuffled. On Saturday, the college football game between Clemson and Florida State was called off three hours before kickoff. Dodger Stadium, home of the World Series champions, is a massive testing site, with lines of cars snaking across the parking lot.

Sports, in other words, aren’t a distraction from a polarized nation and its response to a global pandemic. They have become a constant reminder of them. And when some nurses turn to sports for an attempt at escape, instead it’s just one more image of who gets priority for tests and, often, who does not.

“There is a disconnect when you watch sports now. It’s not the same. Covid changed everything,” says Gutierrez Vo, who works for Kaiser Permanente in Fremont, Calif. “I try not to think about it.”

Sandoval tries the same, telling herself that watching a game is among the few things that make it feel like February again. Back then, the coronavirus was a distant threat and the 49ers were in the Super Bowl.

That night, Sandoval had a shift in the ER, and between patients, she would duck into the break room or huddle next to a colleague checking the score on the phone. The 49ers were playing the Kansas City Chiefs, and Sandoval would recall that her favorite team blowing a double-digit lead represented the mightiest stress that day.

Now during shifts, Sandoval sometimes argues with patients who insist the virus that has infected them is a media-driven hoax. She masks up and wears a face shield even if a patient hasn’t been confirmed with the coronavirus, though she can’t help second-guessing herself.

“Did I wash my hands? Did I touch my glasses? Was I extra careful?” she says.

If Sandoval suspects she has been exposed, she says, she doesn’t bother requesting a test. She says the hospital will say there aren’t enough. So instead she self-monitors and loads up on vitamin C and zinc, hoping the tickle in her throat disappears. If symptoms persist, which she says hasn’t happened yet, she plans to locate a testing site on her own. But that would mean taking unpaid time, paying for costs out of pocket and staying home — and forfeiting a paycheck — until results arrive.

National Nurses United says some of its members are being told to report to work anyway as they wait for results that can take three to five days. Sutter Health, the hospital system that oversees California Pacific Medical Center, said in a statement to The Washington Post that it offers tests to employees whose exposure is deemed high-risk and to any employee experiencing symptoms. Symptomatic employees are placed on paid leave while awaiting test results, according to the statement.

“As long as an essential healthcare worker is asymptomatic,” Sutter’s statement read, “they can continue to work and self-monitor while awaiting the test result.”

Sandoval said employees have been told the hospital’s employee health division will contact anyone who has been exposed. Though she believes she’s exposed during every shift, Sandoval says employee health has never contacted her to offer a test or conduct contact tracing.

“If you feel like you need to get tested, you do that on your own,” she says. Sandoval suspects the imbalance is economic. In September, Forbes reported NFL team revenue was up 7 percent despite the pandemic. Last week Sutter Health reported a $607 million loss through the first nine months of 2020.

Sandoval tries to avoid thinking about that, so she keeps heading back to work and hoping for the best. Though she says her passion for sports is less intense now, she nonetheless likes to talk sports when a patient wears a team logo. She asks about a star player or a recent game. She says she is looking forward to the 49ers’ next contest and the 2021 baseball season.

Sometimes, Sandoval says, patients ask about her job and the ways she avoids contracting the coronavirus. She must be tested most every day, Sandoval says the patients always say.

And she just rolls her eyes and chuckles. That, she says, only happens if you’re an athlete.

Cartoon – Just Two on the Front Lines

health insurance

Healthcare executives fear for their organizations’ viability without a COVID-19 vaccine

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/healthcare-executives-fear-their-organizations-viability-without-covid-19-vaccine

A complete financial recovery for many organizations is still far away, findings from Kaufman Hall indicate.

For the past three years, Kaufman Hall has released annual healthcare performance reports illustrating how hospitals and health systems are managing, both financially and operationally.

This year, however, with the pandemic altering the industry so broadly, the report took a different approach: to see how COVID-19 impacted hospitals and health systems across the country. The report’s findings deal with finances, patient volumes and recovery.

The report includes survey answers from respondents almost entirely (96%) from hospitals or health systems. Most of the respondents were in executive leadership (55%) or financial roles (39%). Survey responses were collected in August 2020.

FINANCIAL IMPACT

Findings from the report indicate that a complete financial recovery for many organizations is still far away. Almost three-quarters of the respondents said they were either moderately or extremely concerned about their organization’s financial viability in 2021 without an effective vaccine or treatment.

Looking back on the operating margins for the second quarter of the year, 33% of respondents saw their operating margins decline by more than 100% compared to the same time last year.

Revenue cycles have taken a hit from COVID-19, according to the report. Survey respondents said they are seeing increases in bad debt and uncompensated care (48%), higher percentages of uninsured or self-pay patients (44%), more Medicaid patients (41%) and lower percentages of commercially insured patients (38%).

Organizations also noted that increases in expenses, especially for personal protective equipment and labor, have impacted their finances. For 22% of respondents, their expenses increased by more than 50%.

IMPACT ON PATIENT VOLUMES

Although volumes did increase over the summer, most of the improvement occurred in areas where it is difficult to delay care, such as oncology and cardiology. For example, oncology was the only field where more than half of respondents (60%) saw their volumes recover to more than 90% of pre-pandemic levels.

More than 40% of respondents said that cardiology volumes are operating at more than 90% of pre-pandemic levels. Only 37% of respondents can say the same for orthopedics, neurology and radiology, and 22% for pediatrics.

Emergency department usage is also down as a result of the pandemic, according to the report. The respondents expect that this trend will persist beyond COVID-19 and that systems may need to reshape their business model to account for a drop in emergency department utilization.

Most respondents also said they expect to see overall volumes remain low through the summer of 2021, with some planning for suppressed volumes for the next three years.

RECOVERY MEASURES

Hospitals and health systems have taken a number of approaches to reduce costs and mitigate future revenue declines. The most common practices implemented are supply reprocessing, furloughs and salary reductions, according to the report.

Executives are considering other tactics such as restructuring physician contracts, making permanent labor reductions, changing employee health plan benefits and retirement plan contributions, or merging with another health system as additional cost reduction measures.

THE LARGER TREND

Kaufman Hall has been documenting the impact of COVID-19 hospitals since the beginning of the pandemic. In its July report, hospital operating margins were down 96% since the start of the year.

As a result of these losses, hospitals, health systems and advocacy groups continue to push Congress to deliver another round of relief measures.

Earlier this month, the House passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill called the HEROES Act, 2.0. The bill has yet to pass the Senate, and the chances of that happening are slim, with Republicans in favor of a much smaller, $500 billion package. Nothing is expected to happen prior to the presidential election.

The Department of Health and Human Services also recently announced the third phase of general distribution for the Provider Relief Fund. Applications are currently open and will close on Friday, November 6.

Jobless claims increase to 898,000, a sign the recovery could be stalling

The number of new unemployment claims jumped last week, the latest sign of the toll the coronavirus pandemic continues to take on the economy.

States across the country processed 898,000 new unemployment claims, up more than 50,000 from the previous week, the largest increase in first-time jobless applications since August.

These numbers marked another unfortunate milestone: The number of unemployment claims has been above the pre-pandemic one-week record of 695,000 for 30 weeks now.

Claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for gig and self-employed workers, went down, to 373,000 from about 460,000.

And the total number of people on all unemployment programs dropped slightly, to 25.3 million for the last week of September, down from 25.5 million the previous week.

The number of new claims has fallen greatly from its peak in the spring, but economists say they are concerned that the number remains so high.

“No question this report casts doubt on the recovery,” said Andrew Chamberlain, the chief economist at Glassdoor. “This is a sign covid is still dealing heavy blows to the labor market. We’re nowhere near having the virus under control.”

The news comes amid a string of poor economic news, with headlines punctuated with reports of large companies announcing layoffs in recent weeks.

These companies include Disney, insurance company Allstate, American and United Airlines, Aetna, and Chevron.

“It’s not coming down quickly,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the jobs site ZipRecruiter. “It’s unclear how quickly we can recover. We’re likely to see additional layoffs and high numbers of unemployment for the foreseeable future.”

Pollak said there are indications that consumer spending has fallen since the expiration of government aid programs — another warning sign about more economic trouble ahead.

Many economists, including those at the Federal Reserve, have urged Congress and the White House to pass a new package of aid. House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion plan earlier this month that Republicans have declined to advance, while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been pushing a $1.8 trillion plan.

Still, there are signs that Senate Republicans would not be willing to accept that plan, either. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that he would not bring the plan to the floor, saying Senate Republicans believed the deal should top out at $1.5 trillion.

One sign of the severity of the economic crisis is the growing number of people who are transitioning to Pandemic Emergency unemployment compensation — for those who hit the maximum number of time that their state plans allow for. That number grew 818,000, according to the most recent figures, from the end of September.

Questions remain about the integrity of the data, as well.

A number of issues have complicated a straightforward read of the weekly release, such as issues with fraud, which are believed to have driven up these numbers an unknown amount, and backlogs in states like California. The country’s largest state typically accounts for about 20-28 percent of the country’s total weekly claims, but has put its claims processing on hold temporarily.

Instead, the Department of Labor is using a placeholder number for the state — 226,000, the number of new initial claims in the state from mid-September.

But some economists like Chamberlain are critical of this method.

“The idea of cutting and pasting the data from a state is so absurd,” he said. “They could at least use a model. But instead they’re carrying over the number. It’s quite a crisis.”

Quirks in the new filing process require people to apply for traditional unemployment and get rejected before applying for PUA — a source of potential duplicate claims.

Economists have been warning for months that the unemployment rate, which has improved steadily since its nadir in April, is at risk of getting worse without further government intervention.

States that saw significant jumps in unemployment claims last week include Indiana, Alaska, Arizona, Illinois, New Mexico and Washington.

Still, some economists have found reasons to hope. Pollak said job postings on ZipRecruiter have topped 10 million for the first time since the start of the pandemic, equaling a number last seen in January.

The jobs are different now, she said — fewer tech and business jobs and more warehousing jobs, temporary opportunities and contracting work.

Hartford HealthCare nurses begin strike

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hr/hartford-healthcare-nurses-begin-strike.html?utm_medium=email

Nurses strike begins at Backus Hospital in Norwich - Hartford Courant

Registered nurses at Hartford HealthCare’s Backus Hospital in Norwich, Conn., are launching a two-day strike Oct. 13 over alleged unfair labor practices, according to the union that represents them.

Backus Federation of Nurses, AFT Local 5149, which represents approximately 415 registered nurses at Backus Hospital and its partner medical facilities, and the hospital have been negotiating since June to resolve contract issues around patient care, workplace safety, and recruitment and retention, according to the union.

AFT Local says members want a fair contract that protects workers and patients, provides better access to personal protective equipment and allows the hospital to retain skilled registered nurses. However, the union contends the hospital has failed to bargain for a fair contract.

“We’d rather be at the bedside caring for our patients and hope a mutual resolution can be reached; but we cannot allow unfair labor practices to stand,” union President Sherri Dayton, RN, said in a statement shared earlier this month with Becker’s Hospital Review. “That’s why we marched on Hartford HealthCare’s executives to announce that we’re on strike if a settlement is not reached by Oct. 13.”

Nurses authorized a strike in September over these issues and issued a strike notice on Oct. 9.

Backus Hospital President Donna Handley, BSN, RN, said in a statement that the hospital has tried to avoid a strike and, over 23 bargaining sessions and using federal mediators, has continually addressed issues such as personal protective equipment, staffing and additional accommodations for breastfeeding.

The hospital’s offer includes wage increases for registered nurses amounting to 12.5 percent over three years, additional paid time off for 82 percent of registered nurses, and a 2 percent reduction to the cost of healthcare premiums.

Ms. Handley said the hospital has also offered to retain daily overtime for registered nurses and provided staff with additional paid time off during the pandemic and other support.

“In all of these and other ways, Backus Hospital has shown that we respect our nurses, we are prepared to find common ground, and we want to reach agreement on a fair contract,” she said. “The union, unfortunately, is prepared to strike, causing an unprecedented degree of disruption during an unprecedented health crisis.”

She said Backus Hospital will remain open during the strike and programs and services will remain accessible to community members.

Lee Health to freeze pay for 13,500 employees

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/compensation-issues/lee-health-to-freeze-pay-for-13-500-employees.html?utm_medium=email

Tuesday's Headlines: Junior Bankers Watch Out—Pay Freeze May Be Imminent |  eFinancialCareers

Fort Myers, Fla.-based Lee Health is freezing salaries for its 13,500 employees next year to help offset financial losses tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Fort Myers News-Press

The pay freeze in 2021 will mark the first time in nine years that the publicly operated health system has not given employee raises. Salaries and benefits make up about half of the system’s nearly $2 billion in spending each year, according to the report.

Lee Health is facing a budget deficit for the first time in two decades due to financial strain linked to the pandemic. The salary freeze is one of several steps the system is taking to offset losses and avoid layoffs. 

The system has halted most capital projects, and its top executives took pay cuts earlier this year. Lee Health will also reduce the match for employee retirement plans from 5 percent to 4 percent next year, and health plan premiums and copays will also increase, according to the report.

Read the full Fort Myers News-Press article here

 

 

 

 

Three Million People Lost Health Coverage From Their Employers During The Pandemic

https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2020/09/20/pandemics-wrath-on-worker-health-coverage-tops-3-million-so-far/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=coronavirus&cdlcid=5d2c97df953109375e4d8b68#58cf3e92ed47

More than three million American workers lost health insurance coverage this spring and summer from their employers as the pandemic and spread of Covid-19 triggered massive job losses, a new study shows.

In all, there were 3.3 million adults under the age of 65 who lost employer-sponsored health insurance and almost two-thirds of them, or 1.9 million, “became newly uninsured from late April through mid-July,” according to a new analysis by The Urban Institute and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The loss of employer coverage has hit Hispanic adults particularly hard with 1.6 million losing health benefits, Urban Institute researchers said.

And it could get worse.

“With continued weakness in the labor market, researchers conclude federal and state policymakers will need to act to prevent job losses from leading to further increases in uninsurance,” the authors of the report wrote about their analysis, which was derived from  2020 U.S. Census data.

In particular, the analysis underscores the need to expand health benefits, particularly Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, analysts say. The ACA dangled billions of dollars in front of states to expand Medicaid coverage for poor Americans but 12 states generally led by Republican Governors or legislatures have refused while President Donald Trump and his appointees at the U.S. Justice Department fight led by Republican Governors

 “The danger of an inadequate safety net can be seen in the non-expansion states, where the number of uninsured adults has already increased more than 1 million,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation senior policy advisor Katherine Hempstead said in a statement accompanying the report.

 

 

 

U.S. Jobless Claims Fall, but Layoffs Continue: Live Updates

U.S. jobless claims fall in mid-September, but the economy still suffering  lots of layoffs - MarketWatch

New claims for state unemployment insurance fell last week, but layoffs continue to come at an extraordinarily high level by historical standards.

Initial claims for state benefits totaled 790,000 before adjusting for seasonal factors, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The weekly tally, down from 866,000 the previous week, is roughly four times what it was before the coronavirus pandemic shut down many businesses in March.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the total was 860,000, down from 893,000 the previous week.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global. “We’ve got a long way to go, and there’s still a risk of a double-dip recession.”

The situation has been compounded by the failure of Congress to agree on new federal aid to the jobless.

A $600 weekly supplement established in March that had kept many families afloat expired at the end of July. The makeshift replacement mandated by President Trump last month has encountered processing delays in some states and has funds for only a few weeks.

“The labor market continues to heal from the viral recession, but unemployment remains extremely elevated and will remain a problem for at least a couple of years,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. “Initial claims have been roughly flat since early August, suggesting that the pace of improvement in layoffs is slowing.”

New claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency federal program for freelance workers, independent contractors and others not eligible for regular unemployment benefits, totaled 659,000, the Labor Department reported.

Federal data suggests that the program now has more beneficiaries than regular unemployment insurance. But there is evidence that both overcounting and fraud may have contributed to a jump in claims.

 

 

 

 

Another 884,000 Americans filed new unemployment claims last week

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/jobless-claims-coronavirus-unemployment-week-ended-september-5-2020-165121299.html?.tsrc=fin-notif

Another 884,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment insurance benefits last week, matching the previous week’s level.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released its weekly jobless claims report at 8:30 a.m. ET Thursday. Here were the main metrics from the report, compared to consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg:

  • Initial jobless claims, week ended Sept. 5: 884,000 vs. 850,000 expected and 884,000 during the prior week
  • Continuing claims, week ended Aug. 29: 13.385 million vs. 12.904 million expected and 13.292 million during the prior week

Last week’s new jobless claims were upwardly revised slightly to 884,000, from the 881,000 previously reported. This marked the first time since March that jobless claims came in below 1 million for back-to-back weeks, as claims remained stubbornly elevated but off their peak from the worst point of the pandemic.

The past couple weeks of jobless claims appeared to improve considerably from the more than 1 million new weekly claims reported in mid-August. However, this was due to a technical change in the way the Labor Department made its seasonal adjustments, which applied for the first time to claims counted during the week ended August 28. Previous weeks’ claims were not revised to reflect the new counting method.

The change was made to account for the fact that the pandemic generated a far greater level of new claims per week than would typically occur over the course of a year, throwing off the Labor Department’s usual system of making adjustments for seasonal hiring trends.

Most economists agreed that the new methodology would produce a more accurate dataset on jobless claims during the pandemic period. It also produced a lower reported number of seasonally adjusted jobless claims than would have been generated under the previous method. Under the old method of seasonally adjusting claims, new jobless claims for the week ended August 29 would have risen to 1.02 million, according to an analysis by Ian Shepherdson, chief economist for Pantheon Macroeconomics.

“Interpreting the seasonally adjusted figures is complicated by a recent change in methodology, but in both an SA [seasonally adjusted] sense and an NSA [non-seasonally adjusted] sense, it looks like the trends for both initial and continuing claims filings have flattened out lately after a period with more notable declines,” JPMorgan economist Daniel Silver said in a note Thursday. “This flattening out has been evident in the initial claims data for a few months and in the continuing claims data for a few weeks and it is broadly consistent with the idea that the labor market recovery has lost momentum lately.”

Unadjusted claims have shown a clearer picture of the stalling recovery in the labor market. Last week, unadjusted new weekly jobless claims totaled 857,148, for an increase of 20,140 over the prior week. This was the fourth straight week of increases in unadjusted new claims.

Other economic indicators offered a more upbeat picture of the U.S. labor market. The Labor Department’s monthly jobs report released last Friday showed the U.S. economy added a greater-than-expected 1.371 million payrolls in August, and that the unemployment rate dipped more than anticipated to 8.4%. Wednesday morning, the JOLTS jobs report showed employers had more than 6.6 million job openings in July, topping expectations by over 600,000.