The number of people filing first-time unemployment claims reached 965,000 last week, the highest level since August, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Labor.
The consensus estimate among economists was for 789,000 new claims, according to Bloomberg.
Continuing claims were steady at 5.3 million for the week ended January 2 versus the 5 million expected.
“The rise and level of new unemployment claims are shocking,” Bankrate senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick said. “This reminds us that the economic crisis has not gone away, far from it, at a time when multiple crises have been vying for our attention.”
A majority of U.S. states saw an increase in claims. Illinois and Florida had by far the greatest increase in unadjusted new jobless claims, the Department of Labor said, each recording more than 50,000 new claims.
The number of workers who filed for pandemic unemployment assistance rose to 284,470, up more than 100,000 from the week before.
Initial jobless claims spiked to 3.28 million in March as the COVID-19 pandemic prompted widespread shutdowns.
“December’s jobs report showed most recent job losses to be temporary rather than permanent, with employment increasing in many job sectors,” Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said. “Vaccine distribution should facilitate another surge in employment in two to three months. Safety protocols remain critical, as does attention to the costs of excessive shutdown strategies.”
On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the “path ahead” was “highly uncertain” as the central bank kept interest rates near zero.
In its latest anecdotal report of business conditions, the Fed reported manufacturing activity slowed in the mid-Atlantic region. However, the housing market remained strong nationwide.
“The coronavirus pandemic has split the economy in two where the winners are interest-rate sensitive sectors like housing and the stock market, while the losers employed in the leisure and hospitality industries are falling further and further behind,” MUFG Chief Economist Chris Rupkey said.
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