The number of Americans newly seeking jobless benefits edged slightly up last week from a pandemic-era low as the labor market fights to recover amid concerns over the surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant, the feds said Thursday.
Initial filings for unemployment benefits, seen as a proxy for layoffs, reached 353,000 last week, up 4,000 from the prior week’s revised level of 349,000, according to data released Thursday by the Labor Department.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expected to see weekly new claims to edge slightly higher to 350,000.
It’s the first increase in weekly new claims in over a month as the labor market mounted a strong recovery in July and August that saw claims hit a pandemic-era low.
Weekly new claims have fallen substantially from the 2020 peak of about 6.1 million new claims in a single week, but economists have expressed concern that in recent weeks, they appear to have settled at an elevated level.
Since the beginning of June, the number of weekly new claims has vacillated in a range between 368,000 and 424,000.
The country was averaging just over 200,000 new claims per week in 2019.
More than 2.86 million Americans remained on traditional state unemployment benefits, the feds added.
Continuing claims fell by 3,000 from the prior week’s revised level, according to the new data. That figure stood at more than 13 million at the same time last year, in the thick of the pandemic.
Continuing claims have fallen significantly since peaks seen in 2020, but the figure remains about twice as high as pre-pandemic levels.
The latest data comes after the Bureau of Labor Statistics said earlier this month that the country added 943,000 jobs last month — more than expected as the labor market mounted a strong recovery this summer after lackluster results in the spring.
But data from the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey showed that the number of job openings nationwide soared to more than 10 million for the first time ever in June, showing a mismatch between demand for workers and the number of people seeking work.
And in recent days, companies have begun to warn that the surge in COVID-19 cases that’s being driven by the Delta variant is hitting corporate earnings forecasts.
That led to a brief sell-off in stocks last week, but investors have since reversed course amid stronger-than-expected earnings from retailers that sent the major indices back to record highs.
The feds on Thursday also published their revised estimate of the growth in America’s gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced here — seen in the second-quarter up slightly, to an increase of 6.6 percent.
The feds said last month that GDP surged 6.5 percent in that period, falling far short of expectations of 8.4 percent.