Initial Jobless Claims Unexpectedly Shoot Up

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The number of people initiating claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly surged by 181,000 last week, the largest weekly increase since the pandemic’s initial crush on the economy.

For the week through Jan. 9, there were 965,000 initial jobless claims in the U.S., the most for any single week since August, seasonally-adjusted Department of Labor data showed Thursday. Initial claims haven’t shot up as much since March, when COVID-19 first triggered lockdowns. Economists polled by Moody’s Analytics had expected about 798,000.

The jump was surprising even with the recent setbacks in the recovering job market, but economists cautioned against reading too much into one week of data, particularly right after the holiday season. Besides being another sign of tighter government restrictions on high-contact businesses in the service sector, the jump could reflect the latest federal relief bill, according to Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets. The bill included a $300-per-week federal supplement to regular state-administered unemployment benefits through March 14. 

The four-week moving average, which tends to be less volatile, was 834,250—almost four times higher than pre-pandemic levels.