U.S. jobless claims hit 5-week high as record coronavirus wave triggers more layoffs

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The cost of the coronavirus crisis? Roughly 1 million people are still applying for jobless benefits each week.


chandan khanna/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The numbers: The number of Americans who applied for state unemployment benefits in late November rose for the second week in a row to a five-week high, signaling the record rise in coronavirus cases has put a dent in hiring and could be applying the brakes to the economic recovery.

Initial jobless claims increased by a seasonally adjusted 30,000 to 778,000 in the seven days ended Nov. 21. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast initial jobless claims to total 720,000.

It’s the first time new jobless claims have risen two weeks in a row since July — the last time the U.S. experienced a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Another 311,675 people applied for benefits through a temporary federal-relief program that expires at the end of the year, the government said Thursday.

Read: Raging pandemic singes economy. Darker days ahead?

What happened: The combined number of new state and federal jobless claims has yet to fall below 1 million a week since the start of the pandemic.

The number of people already collecting state-provided benefits, meanwhile, declined by 299,000 to a seasonally adjusted 6.07 million in the week ended Nov. 14. That’s a new pandemic low.

Federal continuing claims, on the other hand, rose by an unadjusted 132,437 to 4.51 million in the week ended Nov. 7, the latest data available.

The number of people receiving these federal benefits has more than tripled since August, suggesting that many people who’ve exhausted state benefits have been unable to find work.

Altogether, the number of people receiving benefits from eight separate state and federal programs rose by 135,297 to an unadjusted 20.5 million as of Nov. 7. Total claims have yet to drop below 20 million since early on in the pandemic.

Some economists question the accuracy of the total estimate since other government data indicates unemployment is significantly lower.

See: MarketWatch Coronavirus Recovery Tracker

Big picture: The surge in coronavirus cases has forced some restaurants and other businesses to lay off more workers. The labor market could deteriorate even further if the virus isn’t brought back under control soon and business restrictions are lifted.

Read: U.S. businesses grow faster despite coronavirus spike

Another big worry is the pending expiration of extended federal jobless benefits at the end of the year. Several million people could be cut off unless a deadlocked Congress compromises on a new financial-relief package. Many economists worry the recovery will suffer a blow unless the benefits are reauthorized.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
+1.53%
and S&P 500
SPX,
+1.61%
were set to open lower in Wednesday trades. The Dow topped 30,000 on Tuesday for the first time ever.

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