Added together, initial benefit claims totaled 1.4 million last week, excluding seasonal adjustments, the highest total since mid-September.
The passage of the second pandemic stimulus bill at the end of December likely added to the jump in benefit applications, said Mike Englund, chief economist at Action Economics in a note to clients.
Continued claims, which count workers who have claimed aid for at least two weeks in a row, stood at 5.3 million in the week ended January 2, more than economists had predicted.
With the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden less than a week away, Thursday’s report again hammers home that the new administration’s first priority has got to be more stimulus.
The government’s jobs report released last week showed 140,000 American jobs were lost in December — the first loss since April, when the economy was in freefall.
“The fact that benefits claims are increasing suggests that the economy may lose jobs again in January, as the number of coronavirus cases continues to surge, weighing heavily on businesses,” said Cailin Birch, global economist at The Economist Intelligence Unit, in emailed comments.
Biden plans to create millions of jobs, including in the infrastructure and clean energy industries. Experts hope that Democratic control across the White House and Congress means a more stimulus quickly. But the turmoil on Capitol Hill, including the second impeachment of President Donald Trump by the House of Representatives, could derail bipartisan cooperation.