About 1.5 million laid-off workers applied for US unemployment benefits last week, a historically high number, even as the economy increasingly reopens and employers bring some people back to work. The Labor Department's largest figure marked the 11th straight weekly decline in applications since they peaked at nearly 7 million in March, per the AP. The decline was much smaller, though, than in recent weeks, falling just 58,000. The total number of people receiving unemployment aid also fell slightly, reflecting the return of many to their old jobs. The job market appears to have begun a slow recovery. In May, employers added 2.5 million jobs, an increase that suggested that the job market has bottomed out. The unemployment rate declined from 14.7% to a still-high 13.3%.
Still, nearly 21 million people are officially classified as unemployed. And including people the government said had been erroneously categorized as employed in May and those who lost jobs but didn't look for new ones, 32.5 million people are out of work, economists estimate. An additional 760,000 people applied for jobless benefits last week under a new program for self-employed and gig workers, but these figures aren't adjusted for seasonal variations and therefore not included in the official count. The steady decline in jobless claims follows some other encouraging reports that suggest that the lifting of shutdown orders has sparked some pent-up demand from consumers. Last month, retail and restaurant sales jumped nearly 18%, furniture store sales nearly doubled, and clothing sales nearly tripled, though all remain far below their pre-pandemic levels. (More unemployment stories.)