Weekly unemployment claims are rising less than expected, but remain above 800,000

Unemployment claims rose less than expected last week as employers weigh a winter spike in Covid-19 cases against the expected relief from a pending stimulus package of $ 900 billion, according to a Labor Department report published Wednesday.

The number of first-time jobseekers for unemployment benefits fell to 803,000 in the week ending December 19. Economists polled by Dow Jones expected initial claims to rise to 888,000.

Initial claims for the week before were revised higher by 7,000 to 892,000, the highest number since early September.

Persistent unemployment claims, a measure of the number of people receiving benefits through regular state programs, fell to a seasonally adjusted 5.3 million in the week ending Dec. 12 from 5.5 million a week earlier, according to the Department of Labor.

In total, 20.4 million Americans were receiving some sort of unemployment benefit through Dec. 5, the report said.

Volunteers load cars with turkeys and other food aid for fired Walt Disney World cast members and others at a food distribution event on December 12, 2020 in Orlando, Florida.

Paul Hennessy | NurPhoto | Getty Images

The latest unemployment claim report came amid a dramatic showdown between President Donald Trump and top US lawmakers.

Earlier this week, both the Senate and the House of Representatives with veto-right majorities passed a long-awaited $ 900 billion aid package. The bill includes $ 600 incentive vouchers for most individuals and their families, $ 300 a week in federal unemployment benefits, and about $ 320 billion in business aid.

Democrats say the package is a step in the right direction, but they will call for more help after President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

“While we are already hearing naysayers criticizing construction and composition, the bottom line is that they are dropping $ 900 billion in household spending over the next few months, and that will absolutely support the economy,” said Nathan Sheets, chief economist at PGIM Fixed Income, wrote on Tuesday about the latest legislation.

But in a stunning tweet Tuesday night, Trump questioned whether he would sign the bill, the product of months-long negotiations by his own Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Trump called the Congress-approved $ 900 billion Covid bill an inappropriate “disgrace” and urged congressional leaders to make major changes to the measure, including increased direct payments to individuals and families.

The US records at least 215,400 new Covid-19 cases and at least 2,600 virus-related deaths every day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC based on data from Johns Hopkins University.

Data from The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project showed a record number of 117,000 people hospitalized with the virus.

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