Biden inherits a struggling labor market

The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits last week dropped slightly to a still-elevated 900,000, laying bare the challenge U.S. President Joe Biden faces as he inherits a job market battered by the health crisis.

Jobless claims, released by the Labor Department on Thursday, remain at extraordinarily high levels by historical standards.

At the height of the Great Recession, weekly unemployment claims peaked at 665,000.

The latest claims report comes as the health crisis disrupts operations at businesses like restaurants, gyms and other establishments where crowds tend to gather, reducing hours for many workers and pushing others out of employment.

Consumers are also hunkering down at home, leading to a weakening in demand.Part of the elevation in claims reflects people re-applying for benefits following the government's recent renewal of a $300 unemployment supplement until March 14.

Biden, who took the oath of office on Wednesday, has pitched a plan to pump an additional $1.9 trillion into the struggling economy.

If approved by Congress, it would provide $400 per week in supplementary unemployment benefits through September, aid for state and local governments and direct payments of $1,400 to individuals, on top of the $600 approved in December.