US economy teetering as pandemic inflicts damage; plus the virus numbers you need to know

Gripped by the accelerating viral outbreak, the U.S. economy is under pressure from persistent layoffs, diminished income and nervous consumers, whose spending is needed to drive a recovery from the pandemic.

A flurry of data released Wednesday suggested that the spread of the virus is intensifying the threats to an economy still struggling to recover from the deep recession that struck in early spring.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose last week for a second straight week to 778,000, evidence that many employers are still slashing jobs more than eight months after the virus hit. Before the pandemic, weekly jobless claims typically amounted to only about 225,000. Layoffs are still historically high, with many businesses unable to fully reopen and some, especially restaurants and bars, facing tightened restrictions.

Consumers increased their spending last month by just 0.5%, the weakest rise since the pandemic erupted. The tepid figure suggested that on the eve of the crucial holiday shopping season, Americans remain anxious with the virus spreading and Congress failing to enact any further aid for struggling individuals, businesses, cities and states. At the same time, the government said Wednesday that income, which provides the fuel for consumer spending, fell 0.7% in October.

In other developments:

  • AstraZeneca and Oxford University on Wednesday acknowledged a manufacturing error that is raising questions about preliminary results of their experimental COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Congress is bracing for President-elect Joe Biden to move beyond the Trump administration’s state-by-state approach to the COVID-19 crisis and build out a national strategy to fight the pandemic and distribute the eventual vaccine.
  • Millions of Americans are traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday despite warnings from health officials that family gatherings could make a bad situation worse. Authorities are desperately pleading with people to stay home for the holidays and dramatically increasing fines for businesses that break the rules
  • More people are applying for unemployment benefits as the economy remains burdened by the coronavirus. About 778,000 people applied for unemployment last week, the second straight week the number has risen.
  • To avoid any traces of the coronavirus that might be lurking on surfaces, Americans have been wiping down groceries, wearing surgical gloves when they go out and leaving mail packages out for an extra day or two. But experts say the national fixation on scrubbing sparked by the pandemic can sometimes be overkill.
  • The Supreme Court said it will continue to hear arguments by telephone through at least January because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The Thanksgiving night NFL game between the Ravens and Steelers has been switched to Sunday afternoon because of coronavirus issues with Baltimore.
  • Alabama football coach Nick Saban has tested positive for COVID-19 just days before the Iron Bowl game Auburn, leaving college football’s top team without its coach for a heated rivalry.
  • For months, Hawaii locals had Waikiki’s famous beaches and other tourist hot spots to themselves as a mandatory two-week quarantine on travelers curbed tourism during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Until recently, Hollywood’s big-budget spectacles have largely tried to wait out COVID-19. Much remains uncertain about how the movie business will survive the pandemic. But it’s increasingly clear that Hollywood won’t be the same. 
  • The California Assembly will be trading its Capitol chambers for the Sacramento Kings’ downtown NBA arena when it kicks off the new session Dec. 7 in an effort to limit coronavirus spread.

For more summaries and full reports, select from the articles below. Scroll further for the latest numbers.

Virus by the numbers