The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week even as the nation’s deadly coronavirus surge continued to wane.
Workers filed 861,000 initial jobless claims last week, bringing the total for the COVID-19 pandemic to about 78.9 million — a figure more than twice the size of Afghanistan’s population.
The latest batch of filings jumped from the prior week’s total of 848,000, which the US Department of Labor revised upward from the 793,000 that was initially reported.
That means new claims have increased for two consecutive weeks when economists were expecting them to decline to 775,000 last week, according to Wrightson ICAP.
Jobless claims have now remained above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 for 48 weeks straight — and they aren’t showing any signs of dissipating even amid a nationwide drop in coronavirus infections.
New cases are now declining in 46 states, and the seven-day average of coronavirus deaths has dropped about 46 percent from its mid-January high of 4,022, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
The decreases have allowed some states to ease lockdown measures they imposed to curb the deadly surge, which has stoked optimism among economists about hiring accelerating in February as more businesses reopen. Indoor dining resumed in New York City last week, and hard-hit California has started easing restrictions under a tiered reopening scheme.