Jobless claims rise, but remain below pre-pandemic levels

New claims for jobless benefits rose last week from the lowest level in more than 50 years, the Labor Department reported Thursday, but remained below pre-pandemic levels.

In the week ending Nov. 27, initial applications for unemployment totaled 222,000 when adjusted for seasonal factors. Claims rose by 28,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 194,000, the lowest number of new weekly jobless claims since November 1969.

While jobless claims have fallen steadily since October, analysts warned that last week’s record-breaking fall was likely the result of seasonal adjustments overestimating how many workers would be laid off at the end of November. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended normal seasonal hiring patterns, making it difficult to project and analyze job market movements.

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Even so, weekly jobless claims remained below the pre-pandemic level of 256,000 set the week of March 14, 2020 — shortly before the emergence of COVID-19 eliminated roughly 21 million jobs in the U.S.

The new batch of jobless claims data comes one day before the Labor Department is set to release the November jobs report. Economists expect the U.S. to have added roughly 500,000 jobs in the last month, slightly less than the 531,000 added in October, as torrid consumer demand fueled steady spending.

Both the latest weekly jobless claims data and the upcoming employment report reflect the state of the economy before the emergence of the omicron variant. Economists say it is difficult to know how the new variant could affect the economy until more is known about the severity of symptoms it causes and how vaccines fare against it.