WASHINGTON - Nearly 1.2 million laid-off Americans applied for state unemployment benefits last week, evidence that the coronavirus keeps forcing companies to slash jobs just as a critical $600 weekly federal jobless payment has expired.
The government's report Thursday did offer a smidgen of hopeful news: The number of jobless claims declined by 249,000 from the previous week, after rising for two straight weeks, and it was the lowest total since mid-March.
Still, claims remain at alarmingly high levels: It is the 20th straight week that at least 1 million people have sought jobless aid. Before the pandemic hit hard in March, the number of Americans seeking unemployment checks had never surpassed 700,000 in a week, not even during the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, called the drop in weekly claims "a move in the right direction.″ But in a research note, she added:
"Repeated shutdowns for virus containment remain a threat to the labor market, which is already weak. The possibility of mounting layoffs that could become permanent is high. Without effective virus containment, the recovery remains at risk from ongoing job losses that could further restrain incomes and spending.″
The pandemic, the lockdowns meant to contain it and the wariness of many Americans to venture back out to eat, shop or travel have delivered a devastating blow to the economy despite the government's emergency rescue efforts. The nation's gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic output, shrank at an annual rate of nearly 33% from April through June. It was by far the worst quarterly fall on record, though the economy has rebounded somewhat since then.
On Friday, the government is expected to report a sizable job gain for July - 1.6 million. Yet so deeply did employers slash payrolls after the pandemic paralyzed the economy in March that even July's expected gain would mean that barely 40% of the jobs lost to the coronavirus have been recovered.
And the pace of hiring is clearly slowing. A resurgence of cases in the South and the West has spread elsewhere and upended hopes for a speedy economic recovery as bars, restaurants and other businesses have had to delay or reverse plans to reopen and rehire staff.
All told, 16.1 million people are collecting traditional unemployment benefits from their state. For months, the unemployed had also been receiving the $600 a week in federal jobless aid on top of their state benefit. But the federal payment expired last week. Congress is engaged in prolonged negotiations over renewing the federal benefit, which would likely be extended at a reduced level.
In the meantime, millions of the unemployed suddenly have less money to pay for essentials. Many of them are among the 23 million people nationwide who are at risk of being evicted from their homes, according to The Aspen Institute, as moratoriums enacted because of the coronavirus expire.
Last week, an additional 656,000 people applied for jobless aid under a program that has extended eligibility for the first time to self-employed and gig workers. That figure isn't adjusted for seasonal trends, so it's reported separately.
The Labor Department said Thursday that a total of 31.3 million people are now receiving some form of unemployment benefits, though the figure may be inflated by double-counting by some states.
A study released Monday by Cornell University found that 31% of those laid off or furloughed because of the pandemic had been laid off a second time. An additional 26% of people who were called back to work reported being told that they might lose their jobs again.
After the springtime lockdowns, restaurants and bars had begun to reopen. Yet many soon had to re-close as viral cases surged, especially in the Sun Belt. In Texas, for instance, just 26% of bars were closed on June 21. Two weeks later, the figure had shut up to 74%, though it has since come down slightly, according to the data firm Womply.
In Florida, whose tourism industry has been pummeled by the pandemic, John Brenner has lost his position as a hotel manager. A 38-year-old from Plantation, Florida, Brenner has now been out of work for four months.
Florida's weekly unemployment aid is capped at $275 a week, so "I'm quite reliant on that extra $600," Brenner said.
"That extra $600 put me at just about what I was making when I was working," he said. "And I'd much rather be working. I'm going very stir-crazy."
The stress, fear and sadness over prolonged unemployment, Brenner said, have diminished everything from his diet to his ability to sleep. He said he's angry that the U.S. Senate has balked at extending the extra unemployment aid at its current level.
"The anxiety the Senate is giving me isn't helping much," Brenner said.
Clover Williams, a teacher in Gallup, New Mexico, said she was laid off "right when the thing runs out - the extra $600 runs out."
She received one unemployment check that included the $600 payment. Without it, Williams, 63, worries that she won't be able to pay her utility bills or medical expenses.
AP writers Christopher Rugaber and Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, contributed to this report.
UNITED STATES - The death toll in the U.S. from the coronavirus has topped 200,000, a figure unimaginable eight months ago when the scourge first reached the world's richest nation.
That's according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University, based on figures from state health authorities. The real number of dead is thought be much higher, in part because many COVID-19 deaths, especially early on, were probably ascribed to other causes.
The number of dead in the U.S. is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days. It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama.
WAUSAU - The 34-year-old man accused of attempting to meet young girls online for sex was formally charged Tuesday in Marathon County Circuit Court with trafficking of a child, after being arrested on September 21. Osterman was arrested in Oneida County and transferred to Marathon County Jail.
On September 21, the arrest is a result of a two year investigation conducted by the Oneida County Sheriff's Office and the Internet Crimes against Children Task Force.
Marathon County Judge Suzanne O'Neil set a $50,000 cash bond for Osterman, during court there were some disagreements on whether to issue a signature bond or a cash bond. Runde said Osterman faces a charge in Arizona of "public sexual indecency". Runde said the risk of flight for Osterman is very high, so a cash bond is appropriate instead of a signature.
Assistant District Attorney Davis Runde said the state requested a higher amount cash bond due to the strength of the case.
"His actions have at least crossed state lines into Illinois and on the eve of his arrest the defendant traveled back from Minnesota," said Runde. "At approximately 3 O'clock in the morning there have been well over 100 cyber tips relayed to the investigative team in which the defendant attempts to obtain a child for the purpose of having sex."
These agencies received Cyber Tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children regarding messages that were being intercepted on the internet from a person looking to have sexual contact with a child. During the investigation, Osterman attempted to obtain a child for the purpose of having sex with that child.
Four search warrants were served in Oneida County on September 21, 2020 as part of the investigation.
According to the criminal complaint, dating back to January 2018, investigators believe Osterman used an alias and attempted to meet a young girl for sex using the social networking service, MeetMe. Per the criminal complaint public wi-fi had been used, the identity of the user could not be determined.
According to the complaint, at the time, the user had suggested meeting an underage girl, but later stated it was a joke, when the recipient said they'd call the police.
Osterman's criminal complaints shows similar request at various times over the two year period until June 2020. Osterman owns internet service provider Northwoods Connect, which serves Wisconsin's Northwoods. According to the complaint, Osterman told investigators anyone of his 400 customers could be the suspect, but there was no way to track one specific customer to the IP address when the detective attempted to track the source of the messages.
According to the complaint, in February 2020, Osterman's vehicle was seen near one of the several W-Fi locations that he often used. Per the complaint a Rhinelander police officer asked Osterman what he was doing there for several hours, Osterman replied he was the owner of Northwoods Connect and was testing the internet speed of his competitors.
Per the complaint, investigators later installed a GPS device on his vehicle in April and say they matched his location to the source of the messages.
According to the complaint, in May Osterman is accused of attempting to meet a 9-year-old at a motel in Tomahawk, per the complaint Osterman never showed up and the meet up turned out to be fake.
On June 8th, multiple agencies, including the state Department of Criminal Investigations, set up an operation to meet up with Osterman. The GPS locator put his car at the park in Marathon County where he was supposed to meet up with the under-cover agent who told Osterman she could get him a 9-year-old girl.
The complaint says Osterman walked around the park but never met up with the agent, even while they continued to exchange messages.
Osterman's arrest was a collaborate effort between the Oneida County Sheriff's Office and the Internet Crimes against Children Task Force. The Tomahawk Police Department, the Rhinelander Police Department, the Wausau Police Department and the Marathon County Sheriff's Office also assisted with the investigation.
His cash bond is set at $50,000. If he posts bond:
Allowed no contact with children under 18.
No leaving the state of Wisconsin.
No use of internet capable devices.
Turn in his passport to the Marathon Co. Sheriffs Office.
Osterman will appear in court again on Indigency hearing on September 28 and again on September 30 for a preliminary hearing.
ANTIGO - The Wild Ones Northwoods Gateway Chapter created a butterfly garden in Antigo to help pollinators such as bees, birds, and butterflies. They created a space that can be enjoyed and used to teach people how they can help the environment with native plants and the sustainable landscaping movement.
The president of the Wild Ones Antigo Chapter, Christine Macklem, is an avid gardener that wanted to figure out how to make a butterfly garden for the community. She believes Wild Ones can help along with the Lumberjack Community Project Grant Program.
"The one mission we had in mind was to educate the public about native plants and pollinators and to build this butterfly garden," said Macklem.
Julie Rose, is a concerned environmentalist that hopes the garden will help sustain the native bees that are vital to our agriculture and human community. Including the birds that contribute to pollinating.
"There's been a steep decline in bird population, for the same reason as habitat degradation, pesticide use, and climate change," said Rose.
Ann Savagian studied biology with an emphasis in botany which brought her to Wild Ones.
"To encourage people to turn at least part of their property their landscape into a native habitat so that it supports plants that are needed by not just pollinators, but by the birds and the mammals and so on," said Savagian.
This garden is an educational tool for children in elementary school where they hope to teach children about the importance of bees and other pollinators.
"We want people to walk the path in Antigo. We want them to park their car and just come in and sit and meditate on the benches and learn about what we're doing right here," said Macklem.
The garden was created in July 2020 and the chapter is open to new members. If you would like to learn more or donate you can visit their Facebook group Wild Ones Northwoods Gateway Chapter.
Scholl Community Impact Group in Winchester offers equine assisted therapy.
Director Lenelle Scholl, started Blazing A New Trail Autism Support Group in 2009 to increase children's physical and social skills. Student's from Rhinelander to Three Lakes travel to the facility to receive therapy and learn how to ride. According to Scholl, the connection between horse and human can build a really close bond.
"The movement of the horse stimulates connections that really no one can explain," says Scholl. The movement of the horse, and each horse is built differently like we are and we move differently and each horse makes a different connection with the students.
The program doesn't only accommodate students with disabilities but the program is bully friendly. Kids that have a difficulty communicating will walk out of here talking, kids that don't understand why bullying is not okay will build some sensitivity.
The program has about 30 volunteers and the care extended is unmatched.
"We have about 30 volunteers from all walks of life. No one in our group gets paid. My instructors don't get paid, I don't get paid, nobody gets paid," says Scholl. We're there because we want to make a difference in these kids' lives.
Anyone who is interested in the program can sign up or if you simply want to learn how to ride, they're always available.
MADISON - A federal judge ruled Monday that absentee ballots in battleground Wisconsin can be counted up to six days after the Nov. 3 presidential election as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.
The highly anticipated ruling, unless overturned, means that the outcome of the presidential race in Wisconsin likely will not be known for days after polls close. Under current law, the deadline for returning an absentee ballot in order to have it counted is 8 p.m. on Election Day.
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