Applications for U.S. state unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose for a second straight week in the first back-to-back increase since July.
The data indicate that soaring coronavirus cases and fresh lockdowns are spurring a new wave of layoffs.

Initial jobless claims in regular state programs increased by 30,000 to 778,000 in the week ended Nov. 21, according to Labor Department data Wednesday. Without adjustments for seasonal fluctuations, the figure rose by about 78,000 during the week.

Continuing claims -- the total pool of Americans on ongoing state unemployment benefits -- fell by 299,000 to 6.07 million in the week ended Nov. 14. But the number of Americans on an extended assistance program continued to increase, a sign that more people have exhausted regular state benefits.

The main figures compared with economists’ projections for 730,000 initial claims and 6 million continuing claims, based on the median estimates in Bloomberg surveys.

The consecutive increase in claims offer evidence that the coronavirus threatens to stall an economic rebound that was already moderating from a breakneck pace in the third quarter, with some economists predicting a contraction for the first quarter.

The job market faces additional hurdles as states and cities restrict business activity and hospitalizations spike.

“The continued weakness of the labor market is something that is going to drive the whole economy down,” Catherine Mann, global chief economist at Citigroup Inc., said on Bloomberg Television. At the same time, solid sectors like manufacturing are “going to keep us from being in official recession, but it’s going to be very grim,” she said.

Several states recorded significant increases in initial claims, led by Illinois, where Chicago issued a stay-at-home advisory starting last week. Michigan, Washington, New Mexico, California and Minnesota also reported higher filings.

U.S. stocks edged lower at the open with 10-year Treasury yields, while the dollar fluctuated.

Continuing claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides benefits to self-employed and gig workers, increased by about 466,000 to 9.15 million. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides payments to the long-term unemployed, was used by 4.51 million Americans. Those two programs will expire at year-end, leaving many without government aid.

In other economic data released Wednesday:

• U.S. durable goods orders increased at a faster-than-expected clip in October, supported by demand for computers and metals, underscoring a manufacturing sector that continues to support the economy.
• The economy expanded at a record 33.1% annualized pace in the third quarter, unrevised from the initial reading.
• The U.S. merchandise-trade deficit widened in October as imports reached the highest in more than a year, outpacing a gain in the value of exports.
• Reports are due at 10 a.m. Washington time on personal income and spending, new home sales and consumer sentiment.

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.