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U.S. jobless claims up to 744K as virus still forces layoffs

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week to 744,000, signaling that many employers are still cutting jobs even as more people are vaccinated against COVID-19, consumers gain confidence and the government distributes aid throughout the economy.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications increased by 16,000 from 728,000 a week earlier. Jobless claims have declined sharply since the virus slammed into the economy in March of last year. But they remain high by historical standards: Before the pandemic erupted, weekly applications typically remained below 220,000 a week.

For the week ending March 27, 3.7 million people were receiving traditional state unemployment benefits, the government said. If you include supplemental federal programs that were established last year to help the unemployed endure the health crisis, a total of 18.2 million are receiving some form of jobless aid the week of March 20.

Economists monitor weekly jobless claims for early signs of where the job market is headed. Applications are usually a proxy for layoffs: They typically decline as the economy improves. Or they rise as employers retrench in response to sluggish consumer demand.