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US layoffs remain elevated as 837,000 seek jobless aid

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits declined last week to a still-high 837,000, evidence that the economy is struggling to sustain a tentative recovery that began this summer.

The Labor Department's report, released Thursday, suggests that companies are still cutting a historically high number of jobs, though the weekly numbers have become less reliable as states have increased their efforts to root out fraudulent claims and process earlier applications that have piled up.

For example, California, which accounts for more than one-quarter of aid applications, simply provided the same figure it submitted the previous week. The state had said it would stop accepting jobless claims online so it could tackle a backlog of 600,000 claims.

Measures of the U.S. economy have been sending mixed signals. Consumer confidence jumped in September, fueled by optimism among higher-income households, though it remains below pre-pandemic levels. And a measure of pending home sales rose in August to a record high, lifted by ultra-low mortgage rates.

Yet some real-time measures indicate that growth has lost momentum with the viral pandemic still squeezing many employers, especially small retailers, hotels, restaurants and airlines, nearly seven months after it paralyzed the economy. An economic index compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York grew in September at a weaker pace than during the summer months.

In its report on jobless claims Thursday, the Labor Department said the number of people who are continuing to receive benefits fell to 11.8 million, extending a steady decline since spring. That suggests that many of the unemployed are being recalled to their old jobs.

But it also reflects the fact that tens of thousands of jobless Americans have exhausted their regular state unemployment benefits. Some of them are likely transitioning to an extended jobless aid program that provides benefits for an additional three months.

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