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Weekly Jobless Claims Rise as Omicron Cases Reach Record High Levels

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The U.S. economy might have gotten a message about the impact of the Omicron variant on Thursday, as initial unemployment claims rose for the second straight week amid speculation that the variant might have led to an increase in layoffs.

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In the week ending January 8, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 230,000, the Labor Department announced. That was up 23,000 from the previous week’s unrevised level of 207,000. The 4-week moving average was 210,750, an increase of 6,250 from the previous week’s unrevised average of 204,500.

The latest figures are the highest in two months and came in well above estimates, Bloomberg reported. Its survey of economists predicted 200,000 claims for the week. Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal also forecast that new claims would fall to 200,000, according to MarketWatch.

Bloomberg noted that the recent rise in claims could be due to layoffs tied to the surge in Omicron cases. But the increase probably won’t last long, Bloomberg economist Eliza Winger said, as the longer-term trend points to companies pushing to keep staff to offset the nation’s continuing labor shortage.

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“The spike in the number of Covid cases is forcing temporary business closures, which likely pushed some affected workers to apply for jobless benefits,” Winger wrote in a note before Thursday’s jobless numbers were released. “Most businesses are open, albeit operating at limited capacity.”

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Meanwhile, continuing claims — or the number of Americans who already collect jobless benefits — fell 194,000 to 1.56 million last week. That was the lowest level since June 1973.

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