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Ugly spike in unemployment claims reinforce need for aid package

The new total is the worst since mid-September, reinforcing fears that the economy that was already struggling is taking a turn for the worse.
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A person files an application for unemployment benefits on April 16, 2020, in Arlington, Va.Olivier Douliery / AFP via Getty Images file

As regular readers know, progress on weekly unemployment claims has been hit or miss in recent months, though the new report from the Labor Department pointed in an ugly direction.

In the week ending December 5, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 853,000, an increase of 137,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 4,000 from 712,000 to 716,000. The 4-week moving average was 776,000, an increase of 35,500 from the previous week's revised average.

The new total is the worst the United States has seen since mid-September, reinforcing fears that the economy that was already struggling to regain its footing is suddenly taking a turn for the worse. It's also the 38th consecutive week in which the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits was worse than at any time during the Great Recession.

All of which leads us back to the point we discuss every week around this time: the country still needs economic relief as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a brutal toll.

What the nation needs and what the nation might get are, however, two very different things.

Yesterday, the bipartisan group of lawmakers who negotiated a compromise package unveiled the details of their blueprint, which Democratic leaders are prepared to accept as the basis for additional talks. Nevertheless, key issues, most notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) demand for a multi-year corporate liability shield, are not close to being resolved.

The Hill reported yesterday, "Momentum appeared to stall Wednesday on a COVID-19 relief bill amid differences not only between the parties, but between Senate Republicans and the White House over what should be included in the legislation."

The new deadline for some kind of agreement is a week from today. Watch this space.