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UK Jobless Claims Rise In March Amid Covid-19 Triggered Lockdown

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UK jobless claims increased in March, while the employment rate reached a record high in the three months to February ahead of social distancing measures taken to curb the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19, data from the Office for National Statistics showed Tuesday.

In March, the claimant count rose marginally to 3.5 percent from 3.4 percent in February. The number of people claiming unemployment benefits increased 12,100 from the previous month.

During the three months to February, an estimated 1.36 million people were unemployed. This was 22,000 more than a year earlier.

The jobless rate rose 0.1 percentage point from the previous quarter to 4 percent, which was slightly above economists' forecast of 3.9 percent.

At the same time, the employment rate rose 0.2 percentage points from previous three months to a record high of 76.6 percent.

According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, the economy could contract about 35 percent in the second quarter and unemployment will rise more than 2 million.

The small crack that appeared to be opening up in the labor market in March may soon turn into a chasm with the unemployment rate rising from 4 percent to almost 9 percent, Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, said.

David Freeman, ONS head of labor market statistics, said final data wholly from before the coronavirus restrictions were in place showed the labor market was very robust in the three months to February.

Data showed that annual growth in average gross earnings excluding bonus, was 2.9 percent, and that including bonus, came in at 2.8 percent. Both indicators were forecast to climb 3 percent.

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