By Thomas Catenacci

The number of Americans filing new unemployment claims stayed at 787,000 last week as the economy continued to suffer the effects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to the Department of Labor.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) figure released Thursday represented no change in the number of new jobless claims compared to the week ending Jan. 2, in which there were also 787,000 new jobless claims reported. Roughly 19.2 million Americans continue to collect unemployment benefits, according to the BLS report Thursday.

Economists expected Thursday’s jobless claims number to come in around 815,000, The Wall Street Journal reported. New jobless claims fell below 1 million in the first week of August, which was the first time the weekly claims had fallen below 1 million since March. 

“The economy is at a bigger crossroads now than we were last fall,” Alfredo Romero, an economist at North Carolina A&T State University, told The WSJ.

Investors, meanwhile, have focused on the passage of the coronavirus relief bill, according to CNBC. At the end of December, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion stimulus package, which included direct payments of $600 and $320 billion in small business support.

In addition, the stock market rallied Wednesday after Georgia Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock defeated Republican incumbents Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in Tuesday’s runoff elections, according to CNBC.

However, in a sign of the economic recovery slowing, the U.S. added just 245,000 jobs in November, while unemployment fell to 6.7%, according to the Department of Labor data released Dec. 4. U.S. retail sales plummeted by 1.1% in November even as holiday shopping began, a Department of Commerce report showed Dec. 16.

The Department of Labor will release its December unemployment report Friday.

Jobless claims hovered around 200,000 per week before the pandemic, according to The WSJ. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in March as coronavirus spread rapidly around the world.

Average coronavirus cases and deaths per million have stayed high since the fall, according to The COVID Tracking Project. On Thursday, the U.S. reported 3,793 new coronavirus-related deaths and 243,346 new cases while 132,476 Americans remained hospitalized from the virus.

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