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US weekly jobless claims rise to 286,000 amid omicron surge, highest since October

Posted at 10:39 AM, Jan 20, 2022

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose to the highest level in three months as the fast-spreading omicron variant disrupted the job market.

Jobless claims rose for the third straight week — by 55,000 to 286,000, highest since mid-October, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out weekly volatility, rose by 20,000 to 231,000, which is the highest since late November.

A surge in COVID-19 cases has set back what had been a strong comeback from last year's short, but devastating coronavirus recession.

Robert Frick, a corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union told The Hill, “Fortunately Omicron is peaking and if past patterns hold, claims should drop quickly in the next two to three weeks."

As the Financial Times reported, some economists had forecast that weekly claims might go down in the previous week, but employers are still working to get through challenges related to the spread of the omicron variant. Seasonal adjustments to the U.S. Department of Labor's data are, in part, to blame for a recent drop in jobless claims numbers.