US jobless claims rise again as Covid-19 keeps grip on the labour market

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Applications for US state unemployment insurance rose slightly last week, underscoring the pandemic’s lingering restraint on the labour market recovery.

Initial jobless claims in regular state programs totaled 745 000 in the week ended February 27, up 9 000 from the prior week, Labor Department data showed Thursday. Economists in a Bloomberg survey estimated 750 000 claims.

Continuing claims — an approximation of the number of people filing for ongoing state benefits — fell to 4.3 million in the week ended February 20 from 4.4 million.

The latest data underscore a labor market still in the grips of a health crisis that’s reducing economic activity across many industries. At the same time, infection rates are declining and more Americans are getting vaccinated against Covid-19, suggesting fewer layoffs in coming months as the economy picks up steam.

Weather may have also played a role. First-time applications for state benefits in Texas rose almost 17 800 from the prior week, the biggest increase among all states and territories. Jobless workers may have delayed or been unable to file benefit applications amid severe winter weather conditions in the prior week, leading to payback in this week’s report.

The figures come a day before the monthly employment report. The median forecast of economists in a Bloomberg survey calls for a 198 000 increase in payrolls and for the unemployment rate to hold at 6.3%.

Continued weeks claimed for the federal pandemic program that extends the duration of unemployment benefits, known as Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, fell by more than 600 000 to 4.47 million in the week ended Feb. 13.

The data not only illuminate how many people are out of work but the extended duration of joblessness millions of Americans are facing.

While most states reported declines in jobless benefits, Texas, Ohio and New York posted the biggest gains from the prior week.

Digging deeper

  • On an unadjusted basis, initial jobless claims in regular state programs rose by more than 31 500
  • Applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the federal program that provides unemployment benefits to those not traditionally eligible like self-employed and gig workers, increased slightly last week to 436 696 on an unadjusted basis
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