American workers submitted 853,000 applications for unemployment benefits last week as a new wave of coronavirus lockdowns 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 roughly 70.5 million — a number larger than the combined populations of California and Texas, the nation’s two most populous states.
New filings surged from the prior week’s revised total of 716,000 and outpaced economists’ expectations for 720,000 as more parts of the country imposed restrictions to stem a record-setting spike in coronavirus infections.
Such measures could put added pressure on employers, while workers could suffer from the looming end of extended unemployment payments and other government benefits meant to help jobless Americans.
“The expiration of CARES Act programs will intensify economic damage from pandemic restrictions and a sputtering job market in the winter months,” Bloomberg economist Eliza Winger said. “An agreement on an extension before year-end expiry is essential in girding against a looming income shock.”
The US Department of Labor’s jobless claims data were just the latest sign that the labor market’s recovery from the pandemic has slowed since the robust rebound seen in the spring and summer.
The American economy added just 245,000 jobs in November, marking the fifth straight monthly slowdown in hiring amid an alarming resurgence of the coronavirus, the feds said last week.
But officials have cautioned that jobless claims are not as reliable an indicator of the labor market’s health as they are in normal times because the pandemic has distorted the Labor Department’s usual method of reporting the numbers.