Jobless Claims Fall, But Stick Well Above Pre-Pandemic Record As Deadlines Near

Jobless Claims Fall, But Stick Well Above Pre-Pandemic Record As Deadlines Near

803,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, down sharply from a revised 892,000.

The latest “real time” read on the fragile US labor market comes amid myriad signs the world’s largest economy is faltering anew as coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths all surge, validating fears of a “winter wave.”

Initial jobless claims rose to the highest since early September in last week’s report, underscoring the urgency of the situation as lawmakers closed in on a new virus relief bill after five months of senseless bickering. The headline print for the week ended December 19 was better than the market expected. Economists were looking for 880,000.

The four-week moving average rose to 818,250. Last month, it appeared as though initial claims might fall below the pre-pandemic high set in 1982 for the first time since the crisis began. That “goal” (if you will) remains elusive. (As ever, it’s worth remembering that from September 3, the numbers reflect new seasonal factors which could render the data not comparable to prior weeks.)

Continuing claims for the week ended December 12 were 5,337,000, a touch below expectations. The market was looking for 5.6 million. Generally speaking, we’re moving sideways.

Initial PUA claims fell by nearly 57,000 last week. Continuing PUA and PEUC claims were 9.27 million and 4.79 million, respectively.

The new virus relief package passed by Congress this week would preserve key programs and provide $300 per week of supplementary federal benefits to the jobless for another several months.

Donald Trump’s last minute demand that stimulus checks be tripled and confusion around whether the outgoing president understands that some of his complaints about the broader spending package are unfounded (to the extent he’s conflating two pieces of legislation), raise the specter that jobless benefits could expire at the end of the year.

Fingers crossed that can be avoided.

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