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Unemployment claims jump to highest level in three months

Unemployment falls to pandemic-era low
U.S. unemployment falls to pandemic-era low 07:37

The number of Americans filing jobless claims jumped last week to its highest level in three months, a sign the ongoing wave in COVID-19 infections driven by the Omicron variant is hitting the job market.

Some 286,000 people applied for first-time unemployment benefits in the week ended January 15 — an increase of 55,000 from the previous week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday. That's the highest number of claims since mid-October, .

Economists attributed the jump in part to the rise in coronavirus cases.

"The rise in claims reflects both an increase in layoffs due to the surge in Covid cases as well as an added boost from large seasonal adjustment factors," Nancy Vanden Houten, lead U.S. economist with Oxford Economics, said in a report.

The latest COVID-19 surge has weighed on the strong comeback from the coronavirus recession of 2020. Jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, had fallen steadily for about a year, in late 2021 year dipping below the pre-pandemic average of around 220,000 a week.

In the first week of January, nearly 9 million people said they were not working because they had COVID-19 or were caring for someone who had tested positive, according to the Census Bureau. That's triple the number from mid-December.

Overall, the job market remains tight as illness and care work keep workers out of the labor force, putting pressure on businesses. Employers posted 10.6 million job openings in November, the fifth-highest monthly total in records going back to 2000. A record 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in November, indicating they are confident enough to look something better.

The unemployment rate fell last month to a pandemic low of 3.9%.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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