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Jobless claims: Another 778,000 workers filed for unemployment as 'pandemic purgatory' worsens

This is a breaking news story: Please check back for updates.

The beleaguered U.S. labor market is absorbing a fresh wave of jobless workers, with 778,000 new unemployment claims filed in the latest week, as soaring COVID-19 infections lead states and cities to clamp down on public life.

The Department of Labor released its weekly report on initial jobless claims Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET. Here are the numbers compared to what Wall Street expected, according to consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg:

  • Initial jobless claims, week ended Nov. 21: 778,000 vs. 730,000 expected and a revised 748,000 during prior week

  • Continuing claims, week ended Nov. 14: 6.07 million vs. 6 million expected and 6.37 million during prior week

Despite weeks of improvement, the previous week’s figures revised upward by 6,000, and the four-week moving average jumping to 748,000 — a gain of 5,000 from the prior week. However, continuing claims — a closely watched metric of how the labor market is faring — edged down by nearly 300,000 jobs from the prior week. The previous figure was also revised lower, albeit modestly.

All told, new unemployment claims have held below the 1 million water mark for over 3 months, and remain well below the pandemic-era peak of nearly 7 million.

Yet Labor noted that total number of people claiming benefits in all programs in the latest week was 20,452,223, which increased by over 135,000 from the prior period and exponentially higher than the 1,487,844 people in the comparable year-ago time frame.

Meanwhile, over 9.1 million are claiming Pandemic Unemployment Assistance across 50 states, while 4.5 million are taking Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.

Although the stock market has surged to a record high on optimism about a vaccine, the cresting wave of coronavirus infections is throttling the jobs market, casting a shadow over economic growth as officials mull stricter social distancing protocols in key areas.

“With new pandemic restrictions on behavior either mandated by governments or initiated by individuals themselves, downside risks for the economy have only grown,” noted Bankrate senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick.

“We know that there is light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. Unfortunately, both for the economy and the wellbeing of individuals and the businesses employing them, we’re currently stuck in a kind of pandemic purgatory,” he added.

The rising COVID-19 count has led some states and localities to shutter schools and restrict nonessential businesses, all of which had just begun to reopen. Meanwhile, a range of big companies have announced layoffs in recent months.

Service industries like restaurants and bars — such as those located in California, where state officials announced would be closed for indoor service as of this week — are expected to bear the brunt of renewed lockdowns.

In recent weeks, each day has featured a soaring number of daily confirmed coronavirus diagnoses that exceed 100,000, with well over 12 million Americans now infected by the disease.

“While the economy powered through the July wave, at that time the reopening of the economy provided a powerful tailwind to growth. The economy no longer has that tailwind; instead it now faces the headwind of increasing restrictions on activity,” JPMorgan Chase economists wrote in a research note last week.

Warning of a “grim” winter threatening economic growth prospects, the bank added that “the holiday season—from Thanksgiving through New Year’s—threatens a further increase in cases.”

Javier David is an editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow Javier on Twitter: @TeflonGeek

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