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American workers filed 965,000 applications for unemployment benefits last week — an unexpected surge as the coronavirus kept the labor market under pressure, the feds said Thursday.
The latest batch of initial jobless claims brought the total reported during the COVID-19 pandemic to nearly 74.8 million — a number larger than the populations of Canada and Saudi Arabia combined.
New filings spiked from the prior week’s revised total of 784,000 amid the latest round of lockdown measures brought on by a rise in coronavirus cases and deaths. Economists were expecting 787,000 claims for last week, according to Wrightson ICAP.
“Deterioration may still lie ahead as new virus infections surge and restrictions show no sign of abating,” Bloomberg economist Eliza Winger said.
Jobless claims have hovered above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 for 43 consecutive weeks, a sign that the virus is continuing to weigh on the job market while killing thousands of Americans a day.
The latest surge in infections caused the US economy to shed 140,000 jobs in December, the first net loss since the pandemic battered employers in April.
Beleaguered workers got some relief at the start of the new year after Congress passed a $900 billion relief bill that provided a $300 weekly boost to unemployment benefits and extended federal jobless aid that was at risk of running out.
“With the passage of the second coronavirus relief bill, more unemployed workers are eligible for benefits, and weekly benefits have increased,” Morning Consult economist John Leer said. “Consequently, the share of workers who experienced a loss in pay and who filed for unemployment insurance is likely to rise.”