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US jobless claims drop for third week as Omicron wave declines

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits declined for the third straight week. Jobless claims fell by 16,000 to 223,000 last week, from 239,000 the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The four-week average for claims, which compensates for weekly volatility, declined by 2,000 to 253,250 after rising for five straight weeks as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus spread, disrupting business in many parts of the US. Last week, the Labor Department reported a surprising burst of hiring in January, with employers adding 467,000 jobs. It also revised upward its estimate for job gains in November and December by a combined 709,000. The unemployment rate edged up to a still-low 4% from 3.9%, as more people began looking for work, but not all of them securing jobs right away. In total, 1.6 million Americans were collecting jobless aid the week that ended Jan. 29, essentially flat from the previous week. Even as the Omicron variant spread quickly earlier this winter, employers have been eager to hire, a sign of a resilient economy. That winter spike in infections briefly tripped up the country’s strong recovery from 2020′s virus-caused recession, but employers appear confident in long-term growth. Massive government spending and the vaccine rollout jumpstarted the economy as employers added a record 6.4 million jobs last year. The US economy expanded 5.7% in 2021, growing last year at the fastest annual pace since a 7.2% surge in 1984, also coming after a recession. An overheated US economy has spawned inflation not seen in four decades, leading the Federal Reserve to ease its support for the economy. The Fed has signaled that it would begin a series of interest-rate hikes in March, reversing pandemic-era policies that have fueled hiring and growth but also stubborn inflation. The government also reported Thursday that consumer prices rose 7.5% in the past 12 months, the steepest year-over-year increase since February 1982.

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