Jobless claims remain high, raising stakes for Trump’s new demands on economic relief bill

The new Labor Department data show how weak the economy is, particularly the labor market. The surge in new coronavirus cases and deaths in the past few months has cooled the partial economic recovery from the summer.

Retail sales have weakened, and hiring has slowed markedly. The travel and tourism industries have not recovered much of the business lost since March, and thousands of companies — particularly restaurants and bars — have closed. U.S. household spending slipped in November, marking the first drop since April.

After months of stop-and-start negotiations, the bipartisan stimulus package finally offered some hope for households and businesses fighting to make it through the winter.

If Trump does not sign the bill, up to 14 million Americans would lose unemployment aid after Christmas. An eviction moratorium will expire at the end of the year, and $25 billion in emergency rental assistance will not get out the door. Billions of dollars for nutrition assistance, aid for small businesses, child care, transportation services and more will be in jeopardy, and the government will shut down on Dec. 29.

Trump did not play much of a role in the economic relief talks that resulted in Congress passing the $900 billion stimulus package. In the video Trump posted Tuesday night, his main complaint was that he wanted the $600 stimulus checks in the package to be increased to $2,000. This would add $370 billion to the measure.

Democrats quickly rallied around Trump’s demand, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plans to try to hold a vote on it as soon as Thursday. But it could be virtually impossible to pass such a measure through Congress with unanimous support, leaving the entire bill’s future uncertain.

The stimulus package would extend unemployment benefits of up to $300 per week, beginning as soon as Dec. 27 and run at least through mid-March. The measure also would extend Pandemic Unemployment Assistance — which targets part-time and gig workers who did not qualify for state unemployment insurance benefits — for 11 weeks.

Wednesday’s data showed nearly 400,000 new claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.