The July jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor gave us some good news in the midst of the pandemic. Employment was up for the month by 1.8 million jobs, and unemployment went down from 11.1% in June to 10.2% in July. The gains were smaller than the nation experienced in June, when 4.8 million new jobs were created, but with flare-ups of the COVID-19 virus resulting in reopening hiccups among certain states, the positive gains in July are encouraging.

America lost about 22 million jobs overall due to the pandemic, but 42% of those have been regained. And last week new claims for unemployment totaled 1.18 million, the lowest level in three months.

Unemployment peaked in April at 14.7%, which economists say is the highest level since the Great Depression. Back in February, before the pandemic caused businesses to close, the unemployment rate was 3.5%

Economists suggest that the slower rate of progress in July was due to two factors: the end of the unemployment “bonus” payment of $600 passed by Congress at the beginning of the pandemic, and the re-imposition of state lockdown orders in areas where COVID-19 flare-ups have occurred.

As Congress wrestles with yet another stimulus bill, one bone of contention between Republicans and Democrats has been the $600 “bonus” unemployment check. Industry groups contend that the extra payment on top of the typical unemployment check is providing an incentive to certain workers to stay on unemployment rather than seek new employment. While Democrats support a renewed $600 bonus payment, recent proposals from Republicans and the White House are more in the $200-$400 range.

The current political impasse over the unemployment bonus led both Republicans and the White House to propose a short-term extension of the $600 bonus while the parties work on a more permanent bill. Democrats refused that offer.

The parties also disagree over the amount of the next stimulus bill. The Democrat proposal passed by the House in May called the HEROES Act carries a price tag of $3 trillion. The Republic proposal in the Senate, called the HEALS Act, calls for $1 trillion in stimulus payments.

Both sides are also talking to the White House and have been in negotiations this week led by Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Although all sides say some progress has been made, no deal has been reached.

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