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Weekly jobless claims fall for a second straight week

The number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time unexpectedly fell last week, marking its second straight decline.

Initial jobless claims declined by 19,000 to 787,000 in the week ending Dec. 26, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists polled by Dow Jones expected initial jobless claims to rise to 828,000. The previous week’s total for initial claims was upwardly revised by 3,000 to 806,000.

To be sure, the four-week moving average for first-time filers rose by 17,750 to 836,750, signaling the labor market is still under pressure as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

“There is no real improvement in the data,” John Ryding, an economic advisor at Brean Capital, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “What we’re seeing is a very difficult time in the economy with the virus pick-up that we have seen and the slow rollout of the vaccination.”

The U.S. is recording at least 181,998 new coronavirus cases each day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using Johns Hopkins University data. The country’s Covid hospitalization rate has also shot up, topping 125,000 for the first time.

U.S. lawmakers recently approved a $900 billion Covid stimulus package that includes direct payments of $600 to most Americans. This week, the House passed a measure that would hike those payments to $2,000, but the Senate blocked it.

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