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US workers file 885K jobless claims amid wave of COVID-19 lockdowns

American workers filed 885,000 applications for unemployment benefits last week, pointing to another unexpected uptick in layoffs amid the latest wave of coronavirus lockdowns, the feds said Thursday.

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Last week’s initial jobless claims brought the total reported during the COVID-19 crisis to roughly 71.4 million — a number larger than the combined populations of Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

The latest batch of filings outpaced economists’ expectations for 820,000 claims and rose from the prior week’s revised total of 862,000. The four-week moving average also ticked up for the second straight week to 812,500 — a sign that the labor market’s recovery is sputtering in the pandemic’s deadliest phase yet.

Restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19 have raised concerns that the economy could shed jobs on December after seven straight months of growth. Experts have warned that the recovery will suffer even more if Congress doesn’t deliver another round of stimulus spending.

“With hiring and personal income set to decelerate, the economy could tip into a contraction,” Bloomberg economist Eliza Winger said. “In the absence of an aid package, which lawmakers are trying to deliver this week, the income shock from expiring unemployment benefits alone could be worth over $20 billion per month.”

Initial jobless claims have remained above the pre-pandemic record for 39 straight weeks despite declining considerably from the late March peak of 6.8 million.

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Nearly 21 million people were claiming some kind of state or federal unemployment aid in the week ending Nov. 28, up from about 19 million the prior week, the latest US Department of Labor data show.

That number includes millions of people receiving money through federal aid programs that are due to expire at the end of December unless Congress acts to extend them.

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