Jobless claims rise as cutoff of extra $600 benefit nears

WASHINGTON (AP) — The virus pandemic’s resurgence caused the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits to rise last week for the first time in nearly four months, evidence of the deepening economic pain the outbreak is causing.

More than 1.4 million people applied for jobless benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, up from 1.3 million the previous week – just when a $600 weekly federal aid payment for the jobless is set to expire at the end of this week.

That is the first increase since March and 18th straight week that it has topped 1 million. Before the pandemic, applications had never exceeded 700,000. An additional 975,000 people applied for aid under a separate program that has made self-employed and gig workers eligible for the first time.

All told, the Labor Department said Thursday that the total number of people receiving jobless benefits fell 1.1 million to 16.2 million.

With the count of U.S. infections nearing 4 million and the aid ending, nearly 30 million unemployed people could struggle to pay rent, utilities, or other bills and economists worry that overall consumer spending will drop, adding another economic blow.

“I’m going to be broke,” said Melissa Bennett, who was laid off from her job at a vacation time-share in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “I’ll be broke-broke. I want to go to work, I want health insurance, I want a 401K. I want a life; I have no life right now.”

Without the extra unemployment benefits, Bennett will receive just $200 a week, and she’ll have to decide whether to pay her mortgage or her utilities first.

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