Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week following three straight increases economists blamed on the surge in cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Jobless claims fell by 30,000 to 260,000 last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, less than the 265,000 analysts were expecting.
The four-week average of claims, which compensates for weekly volatility, rose by 15,000 to 247,000.
Altogether, nearly 1.7 million people were collecting jobless aid the week that ended Jan. 15, a nominal increase of 51,000 from the previous week.
A recent surge in COVID-19 cases has set back what had been a strong comeback from last year’s short but devastating coronavirus recession. Jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, had fallen mostly steadily for about a year and late last year dipped below the pre-pandemic average of around 220,000 a week. Economists expect claims to return to those lower levels as the virus fades.