New claims for unemployment benefits jumped last week for the second week in a row, signaling ongoing weakness in the job market as coronavirus infections continue to soar.
The Labor Department reported 778,000 people applied for state benefits in the week ending Saturday, an increase of 30,000 from the previous week.
Another 311,000 people applied for jobless benefits under an emergency federal program for gig workers and the self-employed, who typically are not eligible for unemployment. That number was down slightly from the previous week.
The number of weekly claims have fallen sharply since the spring when the pandemic first took hold in the U.S., but they have remained stubbornly high by historical standards.
The uptick in state claims during the last two weeks suggests an increase in layoffs as businesses confront the rising tide of new infections.
Nearly 173,000 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed on Tuesday, and more than 2,000 people died. The surge in cases has prompted state and local officials to impose new limits on business activity and made consumers more cautious about going out and spending money.
While encouraging news about experimental vaccines offers hope for relief from the pandemic next year, pushing the stock market to new highs, widespread distribution of any vaccine is still months away. And the risk of infection is higher as cold winter weather drives more people indoors.
As the pandemic drags on, a growing number of jobless workers have exhausted their traditional unemployment benefits and switched to an emergency program that provides an additional 13 weeks of help.
That program, as well as the help for gig workers and the self-employed, are set to expire in late December. Unless Congress acts to extend the aid, more than 13 million Americans could lose an essential economic lifeline shortly after Christmas.