U.S. jobless claims rise by 23,000 to 230,000

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The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week hit the highest level since mid-November

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WASHINGTON — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level since mid-November, but still low by historical standards.

The Labor Department said Thursday that US jobless claims rose to 230,000 from 23,000 last week. The four-week moving average, which smoothes out week-to-week blips, rose from around 6,300 to around 211,000.

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“The increase in claims reflects an increase in layoffs due to a rise in COVID cases,” said Oxford Economics economists Nancy Vanden Houten and Kathy Bosjanic. “Claims may remain high in the near term, but we expect initial claims to return to the 200k level once the Omicron wave passes. Encouragingly, there are signs that Omicron type cases are peaking.”

Altogether 16 lakh people were collecting jobless aid in the week ending January 1.

Companies are holding onto employees at a time when it is difficult to find replacements. Employers posted 10.6 million job openings in November, the fifth-highest monthly total on record going back to 2000. A record 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November — a sign they’re confident enough to look for something better.

Last year’s brief but intense coronavirus downturn has hit the job market. When COVID-19 hit, governments ordered lockdowns, consumers occupied homes and many businesses closed or cut hours. Employers cut millions of jobs in March and April 2020 and the unemployment rate rose to 14.7%.

But massive government spending – and eventually the rollout of vaccines – brought the economy back on track. Last year, employers added a record 6.4 million jobs – but that still wasn’t enough to offset the unprecedented 9.4 million job losses in 2020. And hiring slowed in November and December last year as employers struggled to fill job openings.

Still, the unemployment rate fell last month to a pandemic low of 3.9%.

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