woman mask shopping clothing store

Businesses are reopening — but the coronavirus fallout continues in the job market. 

Another 1.5 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week, with the reading showing signs of continued improvement after 1.9 million registered joblessness in the final week of May, according to the Labor Department.

While a total of 44.4 million workers have filed for unemployment over the past three months, many have returned to work. But the number of people on unemployment rolls remained very high at 20.9 million during the last week of May — the most-recent reading — even though it fell by 339,000 from a week earlier. 

The official unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May from 14.7 percent in April, although there is some uncertainty in the calculation that appears to have skewed the reading.

Regardless, the economy lurched from 50-year lows in unemployment to joblessness on a scale not seen since the Great Depression. 

Economists see the job market as the most important support for consumer spending — and even if some purchases are enabled by government stimulus now, continuing unemployment is a problem for retail as the industry tries to bounce back. 

Stores have reopened in much of the country and this week the initial U.S. epicenter of New York City started allowing for curbside pick up. 

But consumers are still holding back. 

And many other big questions loom, both on the medical front and in the economy. 

A second wave of COVID-19 could set the country back — a reality that Wall Street investors appeared to be grappling with Thursday morning. While markets have bounced back strongly and have returned to levels seen at the start of the year, traders are growing jittery. There have been steep increases in the number of coronavirus cases in many U.S. states, mainly in the Midwest and Southwest, causing health officials to warn consumers to remain vigilant about safety.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average traded down 860 points to 26,101 on Thursday morning as investors worried anew about the economy.

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