The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly ticked up last week, rising for the first time in a month despite elevated business demand for workers and easing omicron cases nationwide.
Figures released Thursday by the Labor Department show that applications for the week ended Feb. 12 rose to 248,000 from an upwardly revised 225,000 a week earlier, missing the 219,000 forecast by Refinitiv analysts.
Continuing claims, or the number of Americans who are consecutively receiving unemployment aid, fell to 1.59 million, a decrease of 26,000 from the previous week.
“Jobless claims rose unexpectedly in the most recent week, but it’s probably noise given other employment data,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at the Navy Federal Credit Union. “One noise factor: layoffs shot up in a handful of states. We should expect claims to follow the trend of dropping along with omicron cases in the coming weeks.”
The report shows that roughly 2 million Americans were collecting jobless benefits for the week ending Jan. 29, a modest decrease from the previous week; by comparison, just a little over one year ago, more than 18.9 million Americans were receiving benefits.
Claims have largely moderated as the economy recovers from the pandemic and Americans venture out to travel, shop and eat. Businesses have struggled to keep up with the demand, however, and have reported difficulties in onboarding new employees. Despite the slight uptick in claims, Thursday’s report suggests that companies are making an effort to retain the workers they already have.
Earlier this month, the Labor Department reported that employers hired 467,000 new workers in January, a surprising increase given the surge in COVID-19 cases. It also revised its estimate for job gains in November and December by a combined 709,000.
A separate government report showed there were 10.9 million job openings in December, and that 4.3 million Americans, or about 2.9% of the workforce, quit their jobs that month. That’s down from a fresh high of 4.5 million in November, but well above the pre-pandemic level of about 3.6 million.
The data emphasizes how newly empowered workers are quitting their jobs in favor of better wages, working conditions and hours as businesses lure new workers with higher salaries – a trend dubbed the “Great Resignation.” As a result, Americans’ incomes are rising across the board as employers have ramped up hiring to offset the losses.
The highest inflation in nearly 40 years, however, has eroded the pay gains for many workers.