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U.S. unemployment claims rise for third straight week to 362,000

Hiring sign at job fair
A hiring sign is placed at a booth at a job fair in West Hollywood.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose for the third straight week, a sign that the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus may be slowing the job market’s recovery.

Claims rose unexpectedly by 11,000 last week, to 362,000, the Labor Department said Thursday, though economists had been expecting the number to go in the opposite direction. The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week ups and downs, rose for the first time in seven weeks to 340,000.

Since topping 900,000 in early January, applications had fallen fairly steadily as the economy bounced back from last year’s shutdowns. But the number has risen again along with coronavirus infections.

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The numbers, which are a proxy for layoffs, remain elevated: Before the pandemic hit the United States hard in March 2020, they were typically coming in at around 220,000 a week.

U.S. employers have rapidly increased their hiring since they slashed 22 million jobs in March and April 2020 as the coronavirus outbreak — and the shutdowns meant to contain it — brought economic activity to a near-standstill. Since then, the economy has recovered about 17 million jobs as the rollout of vaccines encouraged businesses to open and expand hours and Americans to return to bars, restaurants and hotels.

But net hiring, which has averaged more than 585,000 jobs a month this year, slowed to just 235,000 in August as the Delta variant disrupted the recovery. Restaurants and bars cut nearly 42,000 jobs last month as COVID-19 cases picked up, the first drop this year. Hiring is expected to pick up to more than 560,000 this month; the Labor Department issues the September jobs report Oct. 8.

The coronavirus’ Delta variant has upended the calculations of economic forecasters at UCLA, who have dampened their expectations for economic growth in California and across the country.

In a research note, Contingent Macro Advisors said that technical factors — seasonal adjustments and processing backlogs in California, where claims soared by nearly 18,000 — were responsible for last week’s increase in filings.

“Overall, the jump in claims in the last three weeks bears close watching but is not yet alarming,” Contingent said.

Altogether, 2.8 million Americans were receiving some type of jobless aid the week of Sept. 18, down 18,000 from the week before. Earlier this month, the federal government stopped additional aid — including $300 a week on top of traditional state benefits — that was meant to ease the economic effects of the pandemic.


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