Roundup: U.S. weekly jobless claims rise for second straight week amid surging COVID-19 cases

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 (Xinhua) -- The number of initial jobless claims in the United States rose for the second week in a row to reach 778,000 last week, as the labor market recovery slowed amid surging COVID-19 cases, the Labor Department reported on Wednesday.

In the week ending Nov. 21, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits increased by 30,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised level of 748,000, the highest level in five weeks, according to a report released by the department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

It marked the sixth time in the past 36 weeks that the number dipped below 800,000.

The BLS report showed that the four-week moving average, a method to iron out data volatility, increased by 5,000 to 748,500, signaling the coronavirus surge has begun to weigh on the labor market recovery.

The number of people continuing to collect regular state unemployment benefits in the week ending Nov. 14 decreased by 299,000 to 6 million, the report showed.

Meanwhile, the recipients of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, a federal program that provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits for those who exhaust regular state benefits, rose by 132,437 to reach 4.5 million in the week ending Nov. 7.

The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs -- state and federal combined -- for the week ending Nov. 7 increased by 135,297 to 20.45 million, indicating the pandemic's severe disruption of the labor market.

Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, a major accounting firm, said in a blog Wednesday that labor market is now moving "in the wrong direction."

"The situation will no doubt get worse if Congress fails to act to provide additional aid before year-end," Swonk said. "Even then, those most in need are not likely to get a government check until late December or early January - an eternity for the millions upon millions who are suffering from the pandemic."

The extra 600-dollar weekly unemployment benefits from the federal government, as well as some other relief measures approved in late March, expired at the end of July, but Congress and the White House remain deadlocked over the next round of fiscal support.

The latest claims report was released on the same day as the Commerce Department reported that U.S. economic activity in the third quarter grew at an annual rate of 33.1 percent in a second estimate, unrevised from the advance estimate released a month ago.

Despite the seemingly fast rebound, the U.S. economy in the third quarter is still about 3.5 percent smaller than it was at the end of the last year, before it was ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent weeks, COVID-19 cases have been surging across the country, casting shadow over economic recovery going forward.

Nearly 1.2 million new cases were reported in the last seven days, according to data updated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday. Total cases have surpassed 12.6 million.

In response to spikes in infections, governors across the country have recently reinstated restrictive measures to curb the spread of the virus.

"Recovery is showing signs of weakening as we move from summer into fall," Swonk said. "Cooler temperatures, which shuttered outdoor venues, a drop in unemployment benefits and a jump in COVID cases put a damper on spending and confidence."

"We expect the loss in momentum to show up as a sharp slowdown in growth for the fourth quarter, then a contraction in the first quarter of 2021," she said.

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