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US weekly jobless claims show surprise gain, well above expectations




Unexpected weekly jobless claims rose last week despite hopes that the US labor market is poised for a strong recovery as fall approaches.

Initial unemployment insurance claims totaled 419,000 for the week ended July 17, well above the 350,000 Dow Jones estimate and more than the revised upward 368,000 from the previous period, reported Thursday the Labor Department.

The news caused stock market futures to drop from their morning highs, with Wall Street pointing to a slightly negative open. Yields on government bonds also declined slightly.

The total unemployed were the highest weekly number since May 15 and came amid expectations that the employment situation will improve markedly as the improvement in unemployment benefits ends and businesses become more aggressive in filling vacancies.

On the bright side, continuing claims, which are a week behind the overall count, have declined from 29,000 to 3.24 million, a new pandemic low. The total was last lower on March 14, 2020, just after the declaration of the Covid-19 pandemic and as US governments ordered businesses to close, sending more than 22 million people out of work.

Total recipients of benefits under all government programs also declined, falling from over 1.2 million to 12.57 million. A year ago, nearly 33 million people were receiving benefits.

Among states, Michigan recorded the largest gain, adding more than 13,000 at a time when auto production derailed due to a semiconductor shortage. Texas saw an increase of nearly 10,000, according to unadjusted data.

The surprise surge in claims last week comes as fears grow about the relatively new delta variant of the coronavirus. The number of cases and hospitalizations are increasing, mainly among unvaccinated parts of the population, raising fears that another wave of the disease is hitting the United States and the world.

New cases and hospitalizations are close to levels they were in mid-May, although they remain a fraction of what they were during the winter outbreak.

Despite the surprise jump in claims last week, several factors point to strong potential for labor gains to come.

The job placement site Indeed estimates there were approximately 9.8 million job postings as of July 16. This compares to the 9.48 million workers the Labor Ministry counted as unemployed until June, indicating plenty of aggressive hiring opportunities ahead.

Businesses closed during the pandemic are also returning at a steady pace.

From April to June, 60,502 businesses reopened, the highest volume last year, according to Yelp. That total included 38,725 reopens just in April, the fastest monthly pace since May 2020.

Of these returns, restaurants and retailers account for the highest share, with more than 36,000 in this second quarter period.

Correction: An earlier view has distorted the decline in continuous unemployment claims.

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