Another 712,000 workers filed jobless claims last week, the Department of Labor said Thursday, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on the labor market.
The weekly jobless claims tally fell slightly after rising for the past two consecutive weeks. It still remains well above pre-pandemic records.
The DOL also said the total number of people still claiming some form of unemployment insurance through all programs topped 20.1 million for the week ending Nov. 14.
1.5 million workers claimed benefits for the comparable week in 2019.
Many of the unemployment benefits are currently set to expire at the end of the month unless lawmakers approve a new stimulus bill.
The states that saw the largest increases in initial unemployment claims for the week ending Nov. 21 were Illinois, Michigan and Washington -- likely a reflection of new shutdown measures aimed to curb the virus as it surges across the country.
Earlier this week, the Government Accountability Office said the DOL's weekly report contains a number of inaccuracies due to backlogs in processing a high volume of claims each week and other data issues. Still, many economists view these weekly tallies as the best estimate available amid the historic, pandemic-induced economic downturn.
"This winter will further test the dependability of the U.I. claims as a real-time indicator during the pandemic," Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao said Thursday. "Normal holiday hiring swings and anticipated seasonal furloughs in certain sectors like construction or retail could muddy the data on the extent of economic damage as COVID-19 cases rise."
"The tea leaves will be hard to decipher these next few months," he added.
The latest data from the government comes ahead of Friday's job's report, which is expected to shed more light on the pace of the recovery.
"Tomorrow's jobs report could expose deeper cracks in the recovery resulting from the recent surge in pandemic cases," Zhao said. "While a repeat of the spring crash is unlikely, it revealed how quickly economic damage can accumulate."
He said promising vaccine news offers "a light at the end of the tunnel, which makes it all the more important that Congress helps the economy hold onto gains made to-date."
"We don't want to trip over our own feet with the finish line in sight," Zhao said.