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719,000 filed in bounce from COVID-19 low

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The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits unexpectedly jumped above the pre-coronavirus record once again last week, the feds said Thursday.

The batch of 719,000 initial jobless claims came just a week after new filings reached their lowest level since the start of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.

Jobless claims increased from the prior week’s revised total of 658,000 and exceeded economists’ expectations for 680,000 filings.

Initial claims, traditionally a proxy for layoffs, have dropped in fits and starts over the past three months as vaccines made their way into Americans’ arms and states lifted lockdowns imposed to stem the virus’ deadly winter surge.

Despite the encouraging downward moves, US Department of Labor data shows massive numbers of Americans continuing to rely on jobless benefits — including the federal programs that last month’s stimulus package extended.

Workers claimed 18.2 million weeks worth of state and federal jobless aid in the week ending March 13, with special pandemic relief benefits accounting for more than 13 million of them, Thursday’s figures show.

Massive numbers of Americans continue to rely on jobless benefits.
Massive numbers of Americans continue to rely on jobless benefits.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

But good news could come out of Friday’s jobs report for March, which is expected to show non-farm payrolls adding 635,000 jobs — a robust bump from February’s 379,000, according to Wrightson ICAP.

“With state and local governments relaxing restrictions, and more consumers harboring antibodies, greater confidence and money to spend, the outlook is brightening across a number of fronts,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.

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