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Unemployment benefit claims climb to 861,000, show still serious layoffs

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Numbers: New U.S. unemployment claims rose in mid-February to a four-week high of 861,000, showing that many Americans are still losing their jobs almost a year after the start of the coronavirus pandemic .

Initial jobless claims traditionally filed by states increased from 13,000 to 861,000 in the seven days ended February 13, the government said Thursday.

Still, it was even worse than it looked. New claims two weeks ago have been revised up to 848,000 from 793,000.

The government has sharply revised its estimate of new claims for two consecutive weeks, reflecting persistent difficulties in states in processing claims for unemployment benefits. This made the weekly report a much less reliable indicator of the labor market.

Economists polled by Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal had predicted that new claims would fall to 770,000 seasonally adjusted.

A further 516,299 requests were made under a federal temporary relief program. Adding up new state and federal claims, the government last week received 1.38 million claims for unemployment benefits, either on the basis of actual or unadjusted numbers.

Combined claims have yet to fall below 1 million per week since last May.

Before the pandemic, new claims totaled 200,000 and had never increased by more than 695,000 in a week.

See: A visual look at how an unfair pandemic has reshaped work and home

What happened: New claims for unemployment benefits increased the most in Illinois, California and Virginia. The largest declines were in Texas and Georgia.

The number of people already receiving traditional unemployment benefits, meanwhile, fell from 64,000 to 4.49 million seasonally adjusted. These requests are reported with a two week lag.

Yet an additional 4.06 million people who have exhausted state allowances are receiving benefits through a federally funded emergency program.

In total, the number of people receiving benefits from eight separate state and federal programs fell by 1.33 million to unadjusted 18.3 million as of Jan. 30.

Fewer than 2 million people were receiving benefits before the pandemic broke.

Note to readers: Unemployment claims correctly reflected the rise and fall in unemployment during the pandemic, but a government review found the number of separate people claiming and receiving benefits had been inflated by fraud, double counting and other issues. . Economists say to pay attention to the direction of claims rather than totals.

Read: Unemployment claims inflated, according to GAO

Also: Why the inaccurate jobless claims report is still useful for investors

The big picture: Forget the erratic unemployment claims numbers for now.

The economy appears to be recovering as coronavirus cases decline, government restrictions on businesses are lifted, and Americans spend their stimulus checks. More workers are likely to return to their jobs or be hired, which lowers unemployment.

However, millions of people are still unemployed and most of them may take some time to find a job. The official unemployment rate is double the pre-pandemic level of 3.5%, and unofficially, it is up to three times higher, economists estimate.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA,
+ 0.29%
and S&P 500 SPX,
-0.03%
were scheduled to open lower in Thursday trades.

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