Jobless claims surge to 861,000

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Initial jobless claims surged to a seasonally adjusted 861,000 in the second week of February, according to data released Thursday by the Labor Department, a sign that the labor market continues to struggle to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data for recent weeks, which showed claims dipping below 800,000 for the first time in weeks, has regularly been revised upward. Last week’s 793,000 figure was revised upward by 55,000, reaching 848,000.

Weekly jobless claims remain similar to their August levels, having left behind the slight improvement seen in October and November, and briefly in January.

The latest data comes as Congress pushes to advance a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, including an extension for emergency unemployment benefits that are set to run out after March 14.

An additional 516,299 people filed initial claims through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, one of the expiring programs that extend jobless benefits to the self-employed and gig economy workers.

That brings the total number of unadjusted initial claims above 1.3 million.

“Today’s Labor Department report underscores the urgency facing Congress as it returns from a brief recess and continues deliberating the American Rescue Plan,” said Andrew Stettner, a labor expert at The Century Foundation. The data, he said, meant about 11 percent of the workforce was not employed.

“Unemployment claims data is a key reason that Fed Chairman Jerome Powell emphasized this week that the true unemployment rate is far worse than the headline 6.3 percent figure reported,” he said.

By the end of January, 18.3 million people were filing continuing claims, according to the release.

Updated at 9:01 a.m.

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