US jobless claims rise after hitting pandemic low

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FILE – In this Tuesday, July 27, 2021, file photo, a help-wanted sign is displayed at a gas station in Mount Prospect, Ill. The gulf between record job openings and a lack of people taking those jobs is forcing Wall Street to reassess the pace of the economic recovery. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits moved up last week to 332,000 from a pandemic low, a sign that worsening COVID infections may have slightly increased layoffs.

The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims increased by 20,000 the previous week to 332,000.

Claims have dropped from a record 6.149 million in early April 2020 but are still above the 200,000-250,000 range that is viewed as consistent with a healthy labor market. The number of continued claims dropped 187,000 to 2.66 million.

Claims were likely boosted by Hurricane Ida, which devastated U.S. offshore energy production and knocked out power in Louisiana. Ida, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to strike the U.S. Gulf Coast, also drenched Mississippi and caused historic flooding in New York and New Jersey.

Jobless claims rose 4,000 in Louisiana, evidence that Hurricane Ida has led to widespread job losses in that state. Ida will likely nick the economy’s growth in the current July-September quarter, though repairs and rebuilding efforts are expected to regain those losses in the coming months.

The job market and the broader economy have been slowed in recent weeks by the delta variant, which has discouraged many Americans from traveling, staying in hotels and eating out. Earlier this month, the government reported that employers added just 235,000 jobs in August after having added roughly a million people in both June and July.

Hiring in August plummeted in industries that require face-to-face contact with the public, notably restaurants, hotels and retailers. Still, some jobs were added in other areas, and the unemployment rate actually dropped to 5.2% from 5.4%.

Filings for jobless aid have long been regarded as a real-time measure of the labor market’s health. But their reliability has diminished during the pandemic. In many states, the weekly figures have been inflated by fraud and by multiple filings from unemployed Americans trying to navigate bureaucratic hurdles to obtain benefits. Those complications help explain why the pace of applications remains unusually high despite strong hiring.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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