WASHINGTON — Nationally, new unemployment claims increased last week to 332,000 from a pandemic low, a sign that worsening COVID-19 infections may have slightly increased layoffs. However, initial claims in Maine fell to a new pandemic low.

Applications for jobless aid rose from 312,000 the week before, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday. Jobless claims, which generally track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily for two months as many employers, struggling to fill jobs, have held onto their employees. Two weeks ago, jobless claims reached their lowest level since March 2020.

In Maine, initial claims filed for jobless benefits fell by about 100 from the prior week to 700 last week, according to the Maine Department of Labor. The number of individuals filing a new claim or reopening a previous claim in Maine also was 700, the lowest number recorded during the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to roughly 600 claims for state benefits, about 100 new claims for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance were filed by Mainers last week. Those claims were retroactive to before the federal program ended early this month and are still valid.

Continuing weekly claims, an indicator of prolonged unemployment, fell by nearly 2,600 in Maine from the previous week to a total of 26,800 claims. About 5,800 continuing claims were filed for state benefits, and the remaining 21,000 were for federal benefits.

Jobless claims rose 4,000 in Louisiana, evidence that Hurricane Ida has led to widespread job losses in that state. Ida will likely nick the economy’s growth in the current July-September quarter, though repairs and rebuilding efforts are expected to regain those losses in the coming months.

Still, Ida shut down oil refineries in Louisiana and Mississippi about two weeks ago and left more than 1 million homes and businesses without electricity. But Ida’s impact was limited: Applications for jobless aid fell slightly in Mississippi.

The job market and the broader economy have been slowed in recent weeks by the delta variant, which has discouraged many Americans from traveling, staying in hotels and eating out. Earlier this month, the government reported that employers added just 235,000 jobs in August after having added roughly a million people in both June and July.

Hiring in August plummeted in industries that require face-to-face contact with the public, notably restaurants, hotels and retailers. Still, some jobs were added in other areas, and the unemployment rate actually dropped to 5.2 percent from 5.4 percent.

The steady fall in weekly applications for unemployment benefits coincides with a scaling-back of aid for jobless Americans. Last week, more than 8 million people lost all their unemployment benefits with the expiration of two federal programs that covered gig workers and people who have been jobless for more than six months. Those emergency programs were created in March 2020, when the pandemic first tore through the economy.

An additional 2.7 million people who are receiving regular state unemployment aid lost a $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement last week.


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