Weekly Jobless Claims Surge to Highest Level Since October

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Jobless claims rose by 55,000 to 286,000 for the week ending January 15, reaching the highest level since October, the Labor Department announced on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the four-week average of jobless claims stood at 231,000, the highest since November. About 1.6 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits as of January 8.

A rise in jobless claims over the past three weeks ending January 15 has coincided with the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid throughout the U.S. The ongoing pandemic has forced the closure of businesses across the U.S. while forcing employees who are able to do so to work remotely.

“If Omicron is truly the last major wave of the pandemic and life returns to normal by March, the second quarter should see a solid rebound in economic activity,” J.P. Morgan chief global strategist Dr. David Kelly told the Wall Street Journal. “However, if Covid lingers, it could continue to restrain leisure and entertainment spending and labor supply throughout the year.”

The report on Thursday comes two weeks after Bureau of Labor Statistics found that December saw the fewest new hires of any month in 2021, with 199,000 new jobs added. The unemployment rate fell that month to 3.9 percent, a level that could rise in January if the number of jobless claims continues to rise.

The U.S. added a record 6.4 million new jobs in all of 2021, however the American economy has still not recouped all job losses from the beginning of the pandemic. As of December, the economy was short 3.6 million jobs from the level in February 2020, just before the arrival of Covid forced mass business closures.

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