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US workers file 787,000 more jobless claims as COVID-19 rages on


American workers filed 787,000 applications for unemployment benefits last week, an unexpected drop as the coronavirus continued its deadly march across the country.

That means about 73.8 million initial jobless claims have been submitted since the COVID-19 pandemic started last March — a number equivalent to roughly 46 percent of the American workforce.

New filings fell slightly from the prior week’s revised total of 790,000 amid a grim spike in coronavirus infections and deaths that’s put pressure on the labor market, the feds said Thursday. Economists were expecting 803,000 claims for last week, according to Bloomberg data.

The recent winter holidays may have pushed down last week’s headline figure, said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union. He noted that states reported about 922,000 claims without the feds’ seasonal adjustments.

“This jibes with the rise in COVID-19 cases and is just one factor that portends a poor December jobs report tomorrow,” Frick said.

“With the number of virus cases surging, there is a potential for rapid spread in localized shutdowns,” Bloomberg economist Eliza Winger said. “Deeper deterioration in the near term will lead to a more pronounced bounce back, but can ultimately leave more workers permanently displaced.”

Jobless filings have remained above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 for 42 straight weeks as the US economy limped toward recovery from its historic downturn last spring.

In all, workers claimed about 19.2 million weeks’ worth of state and federal jobless benefits in the week ending Dec. 19, down from roughly 19.6 million the prior week, US Department of Labor data show.

The latest batch of claims came as President Trump signed a $900 billion stimulus bill giving jobless workers an extra $300 a week in unemployment benefits. A similar $600 supplement authorized last spring was a lifeline for many out-of-work Americans before it expired in July.

“This aid will keep millions out of poverty and prop up the economy during a transitional period, but it certainly won’t be enough,” said Andrew Stettner, an unemployment insurance expert and a senior fellow at the Century Foundation think tank.

The jobless data came a day ahead of the feds’ monthly jobs report for December. Experts expect that the economy added just 50,000 jobs last month, down from 245,000 in November, according to Wrightson ICAP.

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