Jobless claims were nearly steady at 787,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, as an extra $300 in benefits kicked in for laid-off workers.
Unemployment claims have remained at high levels during the pandemic, holding at four times their pre-pandemic average at around 800,000 a week through the fall and into the winter. Claims peaked at nearly seven million in the spring, when a majority of states issued stay-at-home orders early in the pandemic. The pre-pandemic peak was 695,000.
In recent weeks some states have imposed new restrictions as hospitalizations due to the disease reached new highs.
“The economy is at a bigger crossroads now than we were last fall,” said Alfredo Romero, economist at North Carolina A&T State University, noting the discovery of more contagious strains of the virus in the U.S. “It’s now a race between the speed of vaccinations and the speed of contagion.”
He said public concern over the virus and renewed lockdowns by some state officials could cause overall employment to contract in the coming months for the first time since last spring.