New York CNN Business  — 

Another 861,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits for the first time last week, according to seasonally adjusted data released Thursday from the Labor Department.

That’s nearly 100,000 more claims than economists had predicted and the highest number in a month. it was also an increase from the week before – which was revised higher as well.

America’s jobs recovery has really lost steam and last week’s initial claims were four times higher than in the same period last year.

The anniversary of the benefit claims spike is only a month away. Last year, initial claims jumped to 3.3 million in the week ended March 21 before peaking at 6.9 million in the following week as the pandemic forced the US economy to shut down.

Nearly a year later, the weekly numbers are much lower again, but haven’t meaningfully improved in months. Weekly claims dropped below a million in August, but their most recent adjusted low was 711,000 – several times higher than the pre-pandemic average.

On top of regular state claims, 516,299 Americans filed for benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides aid for people like the self-employed or gig workers. It was a sharp increase from the prior week. Added up, first-time claims actually stood at 1.4 million last week, not adjusted for seasonal swings.

Continued jobless claims, which count filings for at least two consecutive weeks, stood at 4.5 million in the week ended February 6.

More than 18 million people received benefits under the government’s various programs in the week ended January 30.

America’s unemployment rate dropped sharply as the economy partially reopened over the summer but the pace of improvements really slowed down in the autumn and winter months.

So what will speed things up again? Economists agree that the vaccine rollout, paired with warmer weather that allows more outdoor activities including eating at restaurants, will boost employment and allow more workers to get off benefits and back into the job market.

But it’s only February and a lot of the nation is covered in snow. So it seems likely that it will take until after the pandemic anniversary for real improvements.