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Latest Jobless Numbers Could Reflect Progress Against Virus: Live Updates

A closed restaurant at Grand Central Market in Los Angeles. Workers in leisure and hospitality industries have been hit especially hard by job losses during the pandemic.
Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

An early indicator of whether a decline in coronavirus caseloads is helping the economy heal will come Thursday morning when the Labor Department reports the latest data on unemployment claims.

Although filings remain extraordinarily high by historical standards, new state claims have fallen for three weeks in a row after spiking in late December and early January.

“We’re stuck at this very high level of claims, but activity is picking up, which suggests layoffs will be down,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist with ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace. Indeed, job postings at ZipRecruiter stand at 11.3 million, close to the 11.4 million level before the pandemic hit.

With new coronavirus cases down by more than a third from the level two weeks ago, and restrictions eased somewhat in states like California and New York, economists are looking for a lift to the job market.

Plenty of signs of weakness remain. On Friday, the Labor Department reported that employers added just 49,000 jobs in January, underscoring the challenges for the nearly 10 million unemployed Americans.

President Biden cited the weak showing to press for approval of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. It would send $1,400 to many Americans, provide aid to states and cities, and extend unemployment benefits that are due to expire for millions in mid-March.

Ms. Pollak said postings by employers at ZipRecruiter in recent days offered hope. “We’ve seen employers smash all of our expectations and show a great deal of exuberance,” she said. “We are definitely seeing an improvement.”

Royal Dutch Shell on Thursday made the boldest statement among its peers about the waning of the oil age, saying that its oil production had reached a high in 2019 and was now likely to gradually decline.

Shell’s “total oil production peaked in 2019,” the company said in a statement, and added that it expected a gradual decline of oil production of around 1 to 2 percent annually in coming years.

The company also said that its carbon emissions probably peaked in 2018.

Shell said it was beefing up its previously announced effort to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Analysts, though, said there was little that was new in Shell’s announcement about future investments, and the company’s commitments to invest $2 billion to $3 billion a year in renewable energy like wind and solar lagged some of its peers in terms of the proportion of capital spending allocated.

“Despite the green spin, the substance would suggest a more cautious approach to renewables,” said Stuart Joyner, an analyst at Redburn, a market research firm.

Even before the pandemic wiped out demand for oil last year, energy companies were preparing for a gradual flattening in the world’s appetite for oil, which has trended upward for decades.

Demand has revived somewhat since last spring’s collapse, and oil futures on Monday returned to their pre-pandemic levels, but many legacy producers, especially those based in Europe, are transitioning to a future of cleaner energy, investing more money in renewable sources like wind, solar and hydrogen.

Some companies, like BP, have said they will reduce oil and gas production substantially over time. But Shell, a company whose roots go back to kerosene sales in the 19th century, seemed to go further on Thursday, declaring that the year before the pandemic hit would be the high point for the company’s oil production.

Shell has previously hinted that this might a possibility. Ben van Beurden, the company’s chief executive, suggested on a call with reporters last year that the peak may have already occurred.

Coronavirus vaccine being administered in London last month. Britain’s early start in vaccinations is one reason cited for the recent rise in the pound.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

The British pound has been on a quiet ascent. This week, it surpassed $1.38, a level it hasn’t seen against the U.S. dollar in nearly three years, and it is up nearly 2 percent against the euro this year. Britain has been under a strict lockdown, but its trade deal with the European Union and quick vaccine rollout has helped the nation’s financial assets, including stocks, perform well.

In the past week, it was pushed higher after the Bank of England painted an optimistic picture for the economic recovery this year as soon as the lockdown is lifted. It is forecasting the British economy will return to its pre-pandemic size by early 2022.

The central bank also said it had no imminent intention of introducing negative interest rates, which caused the pound and bond yields to jump higher.

That said, the pound’s rise may face obstacles. The Brexit trade deal has thrown up a number of hurdles as exporters contend with new customs requirements and retailers reconsider supply chains. The tension between London and Brussels seems to have worsened over the future of financial services and trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.

“Despite the market’s relief that the U.K. and the E.U. managed to strike a trade deal in December, it is becoming obvious that Brexit is casting long shadows,” Jane Foley, a currency strategist at Rabobank, wrote in a note.

“Looking ahead we continue to see both political and economic hurdles for GBP and anticipate a fairly rocky ride in the coming months,” she said, using the abbreviation for the pound.

As unemployment claims shot up early in the pandemic, so did posts on r/Unemployment, one of the many topic-based forums on the site known as subreddits. The subreddit once typically had fewer than 10 posts a day, but it quickly ballooned to nearly 1,000 posts a day in April and May, Ella Koeze reports for The New York Times.

As the crisis wore on, posts and comments surged in the weeks following changes to benefit programs. In January, nearly 10 months after the first lockdowns, the forum had one of its busiest weeks ever, driven by delays in payments and uncertainty around legislation signed late last year.

As hiring stalls and the economy shows signs of slowing again, the continued popularity of r/Unemployment underscores how the system remains broken for so many people.

According to the Labor Department’s most recent count, nearly 18 million Americans are receiving some form of unemployment benefits, and more than one million filed new claims last week. That’s down from the peak of more than 30 million over the summer, but it still represents a number that federal and state assistance programs that are outdated and cobbled together are still struggling to handle.

Post after post on r/Unemployment conveys bureaucratic problems with endless variations: how to file a claim depending on your circumstances, what to do if you made a mistake on your claim, what different statuses on your claim might mean, how to navigate confusing and glitch-prone online portals and even how to speak to an actual person to get issues resolved.

Bruce Springsteen in 2017. His Super Bowl ad for Jeep was his first appearance in a commercial.
Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

After spending years courting Bruce Springsteen to appear in his first commercial, Jeep took down the ad on Wednesday after news broke that the rock legend had been charged with drunken driving in November.

The two-minute spot, which featured Mr. Springsteen in the rural middle of the country, urging unity from a white Jeep, was made last month and aired during the Super Bowl on Sunday. Time for the broadcast, the biggest television event of the year, cost most advertisers $5.5 million for 30 seconds.

The charges against Mr. Springsteen, which included reckless driving and driving while intoxicated in New Jersey on Nov. 14, became public on Wednesday. His first virtual court appearance is likely to occur toward the end of February.

Jeep removed the Super Bowl ad, which was made by a creative team chosen by Mr. Springsteen, from its Twitter feed and YouTube page. The commercial was the second-most-watched game-day spot on YouTube on Sunday night, behind Amazon’s ad and ahead of commercials by Cadillac and Uber Eats, according to the platform.

“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the details of a matter we have only read about and we cannot substantiate,” Jeep said in a statement. “But it’s also right that we pause our Big Game commercial until the actual facts can be established.”

“Its message of community and unity is as relevant as ever,” the company said. “As is the message that drinking and driving can never be condoned.”

People who missed open enrollment for Affordable Care Act health insurance late last year will get another opportunity to sign up, starting in mid-February, Ann Carrns reports for The New York Times.

President Biden signed an executive order last month creating an extra, three-month enrollment period starting Feb. 15. Consumers can again shop for coverage on HealthCare.gov, the federal insurance marketplace, which serves three dozen states.

Typically, people may sign up for coverage outside open enrollment only if they can document “special” circumstances, like the birth of a child, a marriage or divorce, or the loss of health insurance. (They can generally enroll in A.C.A. plans within 60 days of losing health coverage. If they’ve lost their job recently, they can apply for coverage now.)

Open enrollment on HealthCare.gov ended on Dec. 15. (Dates for state marketplaces vary.) The extra sign-up window is expected to mimic open enrollment, said Cheryl Fish-Parcham, director of access initiatives at Families USA, a health insurance advocacy group. “You don’t have to prove” that you had a change in circumstances.

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