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

Initial jobless claims fell by 19,000 to 787,000 in the week ended December 26, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Dow Jones expected initial jobless claims to rise to 828,000. The previous week’s total for initial applications has been revised up by 3,000 to 806,000.

Ongoing entitlements, which include those who have received unemployment benefits for at least two weeks, decreased by 103,000 to 5.219 million in the week of December 19. The data on ongoing claims is one week behind the original claims figures.

The number of people receiving benefits in all unemployment programs decreased by 800,000 to 19.6 million.

The four-week moving average for first-time registrants rose 17,750 to 836,750, indicating that the job market is still under pressure as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

“There’s no real improvement in the data,” John Ryding, business advisor at Brean Capital, told CNBC’s Squawk Box. “What we are seeing is a very difficult time in the economy with the virus uptake we saw and the slow adoption of vaccination.”

The United States has at least 181,998 new coronavirus cases every day based on a 7-day average calculated by CNBC using data from Johns Hopkins University. The hospital stay rate in Covid has also increased, topping 125,000 for the first time.

“There is good news ahead of us, but you can’t see it in these numbers,” said Ryding. “This good news will come when there is enough [vaccine] Shots in people’s arms and we’re approaching something like herd immunity. Unfortunately that won’t be until summer. “

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 to raise those payments to $ 2,000, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked them.

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