US jobless claims rise again amid Delta, hurricane

New applications for US unemployment benefits rose for the second straight week last week, according to government data Thursday, as the economy grapples with the Delta variant of Covid-19 that has made businesses skittish again.

Initial claims for jobless aid rose just 16,000 in the week ended September 18, to 351,000, seasonally adjusted, the Labor Department reported, which was above analysts’ expectations.

After spiking into the millions as the pandemic began in March 2020, the closely watched metric of labor market health has been on a downward trend for most of this year, but the recent uptick takes it back to its level of about a month ago.

Rather than a sign of the Delta variant’s disruptions, Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomic said last week’s increase was more likely a consequence of seasonal adjustments in the data and the impact of Hurricane Ida which caused a backlog at state unemployment offices.

“The trend in claims likely will continues to fall, slowly, but the seasonals likely will prevent new lows until November,” he wrote in an analysis.

The report also showed another 15,162 new claims, without seasonal adjustment, submitted under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, likely backlogged applications for the emergency aid for freelance workers, which expired two weeks ago.

All told, nearly 11.3 million people were receiving aid under all government programs as of the week ended September 4.

That was the last week when the PUA and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program for the long-term jobless were available. At the time there were 4.9 million and 3.6 million people on the programs, respectively.