Washington, June 11: Despite moves to reopen businesses nationwide, another 1.54 million US workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, bringing the total initial claims since mid-March to 44.2 million.

Massive numbers of workers filing weekly jobless claims has become routine since the beginning of shutdowns to stop the coronavirus from spreading, but the wave has passed its peak and has been declining steadily and fell by 355,000 in the week ended June 6. Lockdown Effect: 22% Workers Lost Jobs in 4 Northern States of India, Says Survey.

In an indication that some people are returning to work -- or were denied benefits -- 20.9 million people were receiving unemployment payments in the week ended May 30, down from 21.3 million continuing claims in the prior week.

While that is dramatically higher than the 1.7 million average prior to the pandemic, the insured unemployment rate declined 0.2 points to 14.4 percent.

Adding to the initial jobless claims filed in last week were 705,676 people who applied for benefits under a special program for contractors and gig economy workers.

Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics said the report showed "another week of ongoing, gradual improvement in weekly filings." "The decline in continuing claims was encouraging, signaling at least some people are returning to employment," she said. "States and businesses have reopened, but activity remains restricted and subdued, which will likely result in ongoing layoffs over coming weeks."

The data was slightly worse than expected but in line with the May unemployment report released last week, which showed the unemployment rate declining to 13.3 percent from 14.7 percent in April as the US economy added 2.5 million jobs.

However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the actual jobless rate was likely three points higher for both months due to workers who were misclassified as employed when they had been laid off.

Even with the signs layoffs are declining, the number of weekly claims remains higher than any single week of the global financial crisis in 2008, and the unemployment rate at a level not seen since the Great Depression 90 years ago.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Jun 11, 2020 07:19 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website latestly.com).