The number of American workers seeking unemployment benefits last week jumped to 778,000, the second straight weekly increase and a sign that the resurgent viral outbreak may be forcing more businesses to cut jobs.

The Labor Department said in a Nov. 25 report (pdf) that the number of people who filed for state unemployment benefits last week grew by 30,000 from the previous week’s revised level of 742,000.

Weekly jobless claims hit a record 6.9 million in March, at the peak of lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19. While the number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell dramatically in the month or two that followed, the pace of recovery has slowed steadily since then, with weekly jobless filings stuck above 700,000 for months. Prior to the pandemic, they had hovered at around 225,000 per week.

The largest increases in jobless filings for the week ending Nov. 14 were in Louisiana (+33,573), Massachusetts (+9,859), and Texas (+5,216), while the largest drops were in Illinois (-20,581), Washington (-8,904), and New Jersey (-7,990).

Economists polled by Reuters predicted a drop in weekly jobless claims, making the Labor Department’s figures a downside surprise.

“The question is who wins the battle—the vaccines or the rising cases in the short term,” said Christopher Grisanti, chief equity strategist at MAI Capital Management in Ohio.

“For the last several weeks, the market has been looking through bad news, but then you get the statistic about the unemployment claim and the market focuses again on the short term difficulties we are having,” he added.

Investors appeared on edge Wednesday, with both the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones retreating in morning trading, as funds flowed into safe-havens gold and bonds.

The Labor Department figures also showed that the total number of American workers claiming unemployment benefits in all programs nationwide rose by over 135,000 to 20.5 million for the week ended Nov. 7, nearly 19 million more than in the comparable week in 2019.

Meanwhile, new daily CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus infections have surged to their highest levels yet in the United States in recent weeks, with the virus blamed for more than 266,000 deaths and nearly 13 million confirmed cases.

Resurgent cases have prompted officials in over a dozen states to tighten curbs on businesses to try to slow infections, issuing mask mandates, limiting the size of gatherings, restricting restaurant dining, or reducing the hours and capacity of bars and stores.

Some of the restrictions, like Pennsylvanians having to wear masks inside their own homes whenever people from different households are gathered, or Ohioans at weddings not being allowed to dance or socialize in open congregate areas, have been met with sharp criticism from Republican lawmakers, with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) telling Fox News on Sunday that “this has gotten so ridiculous and we forget this is America.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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