Jobless claims in the state hit their highest level in three months, according to new data (pdf) from the Department of Labor.
Weekly claims for the week ended January 15 rose by 55,000 to 286,000, the highest since October last year.
The seasonal surge in jobless claims in January is in line with the yearly pattern as temporary workers return to unemployment and many outdoor construction work is suspended due to severe weather. While the Department of Labor is trying to control these factors in its data, it has been difficult to do so during the pandemic.
One of the main drivers of this larger-than-average rise in jobless claims is likely a variant of the CCP Omicron virus that has led to temporary closures and layoffs and increased the overall number of unemployed.
While workers are not eligible for unemployment if they personally test positive for the virus, they may still be out of a job and eligible to apply when they are prevented from working due to potential exposure or workplace closures. So while these workers are unable to report to work, they contribute to the total number of jobless claims, temporarily boosting weekly averages.
Omicron cases tend to be less severe than previous iterations of the CCP virus, but this variant is highly contagious, causing a rapid spike in cases throughout December and early January. On January 15, the average number of cases reached a new record of more than 798,000, although official average deaths remain well below those recorded a year ago.
However, with many experts stating that Omicron has already peaked or will soon peak, the transition from pandemic to endemic seems more inevitable than ever before. While it is not clear how fast the decline in cases could be, it can be concluded that the total number of cases will drop significantly in the coming months. If this pattern continues, it is likely that the surge in jobless claims this winter will ease, eventually becoming an anomaly as part of a broader job recovery trend.