Unemployment Claims Expected to Edge Higher as Extra $300 Payments Start

The number of workers seeking unemployment benefits is expected to have edged higher at the start of the year, as an extra $300 in weekly payments kicked in from the coronavirus aid package signed into law last month.

Economists project initial jobless claims to regular state programs, a proxy for layoffs, to increase modestly to 815,000 during the week ended Jan. 2, according to a Wall Street Journal survey. The Labor Department will publish the latest data at 8:30 a.m. ET on Thursday.

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.”

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