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Trends: 252,000 Left Jobless Before Holidays

The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits in early December soared to highest level in more than two years, but the spike was likely tied to a later than usual Thanksgiving holiday instead of rising layoffs, according to recent data.

This story by Jeffry Bartash originally appeared in MarketWatch.

Initial jobless claims jumped 49,000 to a seasonally adjusted 252,000 in the first week of December., the government said Thursday. That’s the highest level since September 2017.

Raw or unadjusted jobless claims show unusually large increases in a number of states, including California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Minnesota.

Jobless claims often gyrate during the long holiday season that starts after Thanksgiving. Laid-off workers wait longer to file claims, unemployment offices are closed more often, and companies add and drop temporary workers. Poor weather can also skew the numbers.

The Thanksgiving holiday, which falls in different weeks each year, appears to have thrown off the government’s process of adjusting jobless claims for seasonal swings in employment. The holiday took place on Nov. 22 in 2018 and on Nov. 28 in 2019.

The more stable monthly average of new claims, by contrast, rose a much smaller 6,250 to 224,000. That more likely reflects the underlying level of jobless claims.

Meanwhile, the number of people already collecting unemployment benefits, known as continuing claims, fell by 31,000 to 1.67 million.

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