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US jobless claims jump by most since March, close to a million

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Applications for US state unemployment benefits surged last week by the most since late March, pointing to persistent labour-market pain as coronavirus infections continue to soar and potentially adding to momentum for a larger federal stimulus plan.

[NEW YORK] Applications for US state unemployment benefits surged last week by the most since late March, pointing to persistent labour-market pain as coronavirus infections continue to soar and potentially adding to momentum for a larger federal stimulus plan.

Initial jobless claims in regular state programmes rose by 181,000 to 965,000 in the week ended Jan 9, according to Labor Department data Thursday that showed a broad number of states with large increases. On an unadjusted basis, the figure jumped to 1.15 million.

Continuing claims in state programmes - an approximation of the number of people receiving ongoing benefits - climbed by 199,000 to 5.27 million in the week ended Jan 2. Both initial and continuing figures exceeded the highest estimates in Bloomberg's survey of economists.

Jobless claims have exceeded 750,000 each week since virus cases started surging again late last year, underscoring the impact of infection fears and business restrictions on employment. Vaccine distribution should help restore economic activity in the coming months, but the first quarter could continue to bring labour market weakness until inoculations reach a critical mass.

The US$900 billion pandemic aid package recently approved should provide some relief for workers and businesses in the first quarter. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to release details Thursday of a proposed additional relief package that could further extend unemployment benefits and aid cities and states.

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Mr Biden last week put the "entire package" at "trillions of dollars," and many Democrats believe it will be as much as US$2 trillion, while others expect the coronavirus-only portion will fall closer to the value of the last package. The initial filings far exceeded the worst days of the 2007-09 recession and may skew negotiators toward a bigger relief package.

Among states, Illinois and Florida reported initial claims exceeding 50,000 last week, while California and Kansas topped 20,000.

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