Washington―Hiring in the United States likely stalled at the end of 2020, economists say, as coronavirus infections soared and Washington lawmakers squabbled over a massive spending bill that was approved only at the last minute.

The Labor Department on Friday will release the December jobs report, the final report for a year that saw the US economy unraveled by the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to rage even as vaccines are being rolled out.

Business closures to stop the virus from spreading sent the unemployment rate skyrocketing in April from its record-low level, and though it has since decreased, the forecast among analysts is for little improvement from the 6.7 percent jobless rate reported in November.

“I think things have slowed down,” said William Spriggs, chief economist of the AFL-CIO trade union federation.   

“We’ll continue to see what we saw in November, which is the bounceback is really grinding to a halt,” he told AFP.

The report follows Labor Department data Thursday showing new applications for jobless benefits remained at a high level in the final week of the year.

“The underlying story here is clear. A combination of COVID fear and state-mandated restrictions on activity in the services sector is squeezing businesses, and no real relief is likely until a sustained decline in pressure on hospitals emerges,” said Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics.

The US was gripped by twin crises in 2020: the pandemic and its economic fallout.

The seemingly unstoppable COVID-19 outbreak has infected more than 21.3 million people and killed nearly 362,000 as of Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Efforts to stop the virus by ordering many businesses to close or restrict activities caused massive layoffs beginning in March that moderated over the summer as those regulations were relaxed.

But many states tightened rules again as COVID-19 cases began climbing in the winter, slowing the recovery in the labor market.

That has kept weekly new jobless claims above the single worst week of the 2008-2010 global financial crisis, with a seasonally adjusted 787,000 filings in the week ended January 2, 2021, the Labor Department said.

Topics: Labor Department , United States , COVID-19 , William Spriggs , Employment


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