An estimated 870,000 people filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week, up from the previously weekly figure, as the U.S. struggles to combat the coronavirus pandemic and its economic devastation.“That number is still above the previous height for jobless claims since before the Covid crisis started,” Martha Gimbel, labor economist for Schmidt Futures, told NBC News. “It is astonishing that we are getting used to a number every week higher than we have ever seen before.”While the labor market is showing signs of picking up, the pace at which it is improving has slowed, and some indicators even hinting at backsliding.The number of hours worked has fallen since mid-August and continuing jobless benefit claims have increased after steadily falling since May, wrote Sophia Koropeckyj, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. Muted reopenings, reversals and soaring infection rates in some areas have chipped away at gains. Moody’s expects that the U.S. will not return to pre-coronavirus employment levels until the end of 2023.With the official unemployment rate now at 8.4 percent, down from 10.2 percent in July, it is well below the peak of 14.7 percent in April. Economists have some words of caution, however: The exact nature of the work force

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