WASHINGTON - The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose to the highest level since November, but it's still low by historic standards.
The Department of Labor said last week that the U.S. jobless claims rose by 23,000 to 230,000. The four-week moving average, which smooths out week-to- week blips, rose nearly 6,300 to almost 211,000.
The increase in weekly applications, a proxy for layoffs, has occurred in four of the last five weeks, a period that runs in tandem with the spread of the omicron variant. The jobs market bounced back strongly from last year's coronaviruses recession. Jobless claims had dropped steadily for about a year and were below the pre-pandemic average of 220,000 a week.
The rise in claims is likely due to the surge in COVID cases, said economists Nancy Vanden Houten and Kathy Bostjancic of Oxford Economics. In the near term, claims may remain elevated, but we expect initial claims to gravitate back to the 200 k level once the Omicron wave passes. There are indications that cases from the omicron variant are peaking. There were 1.6 million people who were collecting jobless aid the week that ended Jan. 1.
At a time when it is hard to find replacements, companies are holding onto workers. In November, the fifth-highest monthly total in records since 2000 was posted by employers, with 10.6 million job openings. The job market rebounded back from last year s brief but intense coronaviruses recession. When COVID 19 hit, governments ordered lock downs, consumers hunkered down at home and many businesses closed or cut back hours. In March and April 2020, employers slashed millions of jobs and the unemployment rate went up to 14.7%.
The economy was regained after massive government spending and the roll out of vaccines. In the last year, employers added a record 6.4 million jobs but that wasn't enough to make up for the 9.4 million jobs lost in 2020. In November and December last year, hiring slowed as employers struggled to fill job openings.
The unemployment rate fell to a low of 3.9% last month.