Unemployment benefit claims unexpectedly fall as coronavirus lockdowns widen

The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits fell last week amid a rise in COVID-19 infections and new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the disease.

Data released Thursday by the Labor Department showed 787,000 Americans filed first-time jobless claims in the week ended Dec. 26, fewer than the 833,000 that analysts surveyed by Refinitiv were expecting. The prior week's reading was revised higher by 3,000 to 836,000.

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The number of new claims, which fell to the lowest level in a month, is almost four times pre-crisis levels, but well below the nearly 7 million filings that were recorded when lockdowns were first ordered in March. About 70 million Americans, or 40% of the labor force, have filed for unemployment benefits at some point during the pandemic.

The number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits fell to 5.219 million versus the 5.39 million that analysts were anticipating. A downwardly revised 5.322 million Americans remained on unemployment benefits in the week ended Dec. 19.

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Thursday's report comes days after President Trump signed a $900 billion aid package that through March extends an additional $300 per week in unemployment benefits. The deal also provides Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses and a $600 direct payment to most Americans, among other things.

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