Jobless claims rise for first time in five weeks to 353,000, but still near pandemic low

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The numbers: The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits in late August rose for the first time in five weeks, but new jobless claims remained near a pandemic low and suggest the economy is still doing pretty well despite a surge in coronavirus cases.

Initial jobless claims in the states increased by 4,000 to 353,000 in the week ended Aug. 21, the government said Thursday.

Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had estimated new claims would total 350,000.

Read: Delta deals small blow to economy in August, but businesses remain upbeat

Before the pandemic, initial jobless claims averaged about 220,000 a week. They soared to as high as 6.9 million in one week alone early in pandemic and have been falling ever since.

Big picture: Restaurants, hotels and other companies that deal face to face with customers have lost some business because of the rise of delta as more people stay at home.

Yet most firms are still ringing up fairly strong sales and they are trying to hire more workers in anticipation that the latest coronavirus wave will fade.

What could upset their plans is if delta spreads, more people stay at home and sales slow. The Federal Reserve is watching closely as it debates when to start easing back on its support for the economy.

Read: Delta is making Americans nervous and raising fresh worries on economy

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average

and S&P 500

were set to open slightly higher in Thursday trades.

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