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US jobless claims rise to 3-month high

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Weekly new jobless claims unexpectedly jumped last week by the most since October, with some renewed virus-related disruptions at least temporarily impeding the labor market's recovery.

The Labor Department released its latest weekly jobless claims report Thursday at 8:30 a.m. ET. Here were the main metrics from the print, compared to consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg:

  • Initial jobless claims, week ended Jan. 15: 286,000 vs. 225,000 expected and a revised 231,000 during prior week

  • Continuing claims, week ended Jan. 8: 1.635 million vs. 1.563 million expected and a revised 1.551 million during prior week

Initial unemployment claims rose for a third straight week, coming in near the 300,000 level. This represented some backsliding from recent progress in the trajectory of jobless claims. Claims had reached a 52-year low of 188,000 in December, as many employers attempted to keep their existing workforces in the face of widespread labor shortages.

Continuing claims also came in higher-than-expected in the most recent data. These claims, which tracks filers still collecting regular state unemployment benefits, rose by more than 1.6 million in mid-January. Still, continuing claims had come in at the lowest level since 1973 just a week earlier.

The most recent move higher in new claims may be due to some impacts from the Omicron variant and ultimately prove temporary, according to some economists.

"After having notched the lowest levels in decades, new claims are moving in the wrong direction. Omicron deserves suspicion for some new job loss, with pressures being seen both on the labor demand and supply sides," Mark Hamrick, Bankrate.com senior economic analyst, wrote in an email Thursday. "Because of the pandemic, some workers have been sidelined and no doubt some businesses have been negatively impacted by this latest wave of the pandemic."

And even without the latest pressures from the virus, the labor market had already been considerably tight heading into 2022, representing one of many supply-side challenges for companies.

"Transportation and labor markets remain tight, availability of materials remain stretched in some categories and in some markets, inflationary pressures are broad-based with little signs of near-term relief," Procter & Gamble Chief Financial Officer Andre Schulten said during the company's earnings call Wednesday.

Still, competition for labor has also presented opportunities and additional leverage for workers. Wages last rose at 4.7% on an annual basis in December, according to the latest monthly Labor Department data. And some of the biggest corporations in the U.S. including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs have already reported higher compensation costs in their latest quarterly results, largely as a bid to attract and retain talent.

"The consumer has $2 trillion more on their balance sheet, their home prices are up, asset prices are up, jobs are plentiful, wages are going up, which is good for them," JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said during the firm's earnings call last week. "We're not against that ... the consumer is in really good shape."

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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