Women—and particularly women of color—have borne the brunt of the economic disaster that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Steve Pfost/Newsday RM via Getty Images)
Women—and particularly women of color—have borne the brunt of the economic disaster that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Steve Pfost/Newsday RM via Getty Images)

The coronavirus pandemic is worsening drastically across the United States, pushing jobless numbers to highs unseen since last summer.

The number of people seeking unemployment aid soared last week to 965,000, the most since late August and a sign that the resurgent virus is escalating layoffs.

The latest figures for jobless claims, issued Thursday by the Labor Department, remain at levels never seen until the virus struck. And while applications declined over the summer, they have stayed above 700,000 since September.

The high pace of layoffs coincides with an economy that has faltered as consumers have avoided traveling, shopping, and eating out in the face of soaring viral caseloads and deaths. More than 4,300 deaths were reported Tuesday, another record high. Shutdowns of restaurants, bars and other venues where people gather in California, New York, and other states have likely forced up layoffs.

Economists say that once coronavirus vaccines are more widely distributed, a broader recovery should take hold in the second half of the year. The incoming Biden administration, along with a now fully Democratic-led House and Senate, is also expected to push more rescue aid and spending measures that could accelerate growth. The president-elect is expected to lay out his robust vaccination and economic recovery plan tonight.

Details aren’t concrete, but Biden is expected to announce a new round of stimulus checks (likely for $2,000), raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, support for small businesses, and funding to expedite COVID-19 vaccinations across the country.

However, many analysts worry that with millions of Americans still unemployed and as many as one in six small companies going out of business, people who have been hurt most by the downturn won’t likely benefit from a recovery anytime soon.

In addition to last week’s first-time applications for unemployment aid, the government said Thursday that 5.3 million Americans are continuing to receive state jobless benefits, up from 5.1 million in the previous week. It suggests that fewer people who are out of work are finding jobs.

The U.S. job market’s weakness was made painfully clear in the December employment report that the government issued last week. Employers shed jobs for the first time since April as the pandemic tightened its grip on consumers and businesses.

Those job losses have fallen disproportionately on women of color, who are more likely to work in the affected industries. They are also more likely to have quit jobs to stay home and care for children, many of whom are engaged in online schooling.