Unemployment Claims Creep Up Again in Discouraging Sign

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The number of people initiating claims for unemployment insurance crept up by 13,000 last week, another sign the U.S. economy is really struggling to recover jobs lost to the pandemic. 

There were 861,000 initial unemployment claims for the week through Feb. 13, according to seasonally adjusted data released by the Department of Labor Thursday. That was much higher than the 751,611 expected by economists cited by Moody’s Analytics.

The 4-week moving average, now at 833,000, has been above 800,000 for 10 straight weeks. That compares to a 4-week moving average of 208,000 a year ago. 

“Initial claims are again trending in the wrong direction, and there is little to be excited about in the current labor market,” Dante DeAntonio, a Moody’s economist, said in a commentary.

While the recovery in the labor market has all but stalled, things should turn the corner soon, economists say, as COVID-19 vaccines are more broadly distributed. The potential for a fresh federal stimulus package is also reason for optimism: an unexpectedly large jump in retail sales last month was fueled by the latest round of stimulus checks and other government relief.