WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dipped last week to a still-high 840,000, evidence that layoffs remain elevated seven months into the pandemic recession.

Yet economists say they are increasingly dubious about the unemployment claims figures, even though there is little doubt that hiring has slowed and employers have continued to lay off workers.

Disney said last week that it would cut 28,000 jobs. And American Airlines and United Airlines combined furloughed 32,000 employees last week. Airlines had been barred from cutting jobs as long as they were receiving federal aid, which expired this month. The American Hotel & Lodging Association has said that nearly three-quarters of hotels say they’ll have to lay off more workers without further financial aid.

One reason layoffs remain high is that companies often hold on to workers when a recession begins, if they can, in hopes of outlasting the downturn. Yet if the recession drags on, many will eventually give up and cut jobs.


“Some of these new layoffs are coming from firms that didn’t want or didn’t have to lay people off at first,” said Constance Hunter, chief economist at KPMG. Now, “they have no choice but to start reducing their workforce.”

At face value, the Labor Department’s report Thursday indicated that more than 800,000 people are still being laid off each week, a historically huge number — more than in any week during the 2008-2009 Great Recession. Weekly applications for unemployment benefits have long been considered a proxy for job cuts.

But the flood of layoffs during the pandemic recession and the creation of some new jobless-aid programs have overwhelmed state unemployment agencies. A result is that the jobless claims figures the government has been reporting have become an object of skepticism.

“We can’t view it as real-time