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Data: U.S. Department of Labor; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of Americans receiving unemployment assistance jumped by 2.6 million, rising to more than 20.3 million, the latest report from the Labor Department showed.

Why it matters: The data suggest that the U.S. made essentially no progress on reducing unemployment during December and January, especially for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

What happened: The number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits looked to be declining meaningfully in December and for the week of Jan. 2 fell to less than 16 million, the lowest since March.

  • But that was largely because some states shut down benefits for PUA and PEUC recipients, economists say.

What we're hearing: "The decline wasn’t people getting jobs, it was people getting kicked off the system," Ernie Tedeschi, managing director and policy economist for Evercore ISI, tells Axios.

  • "Now, it’s not that people are losing new jobs, they’re just getting back on the rolls."

Be smart: The decline in the number of unemployment recipients was the result of the delay by Congress in passing legislation to extend special programs like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

  • That was exacerbated by President Trump's decision to wait for days to sign the bill once it was passed.

Watch this space: Of the 1.5 million people added to the PUA program for the week ending Jan. 26 (the most recent week for reporting) 972,286 came from one state — Pennsylvania.

  • Of the 1.2 million people added to the PEUC program that week, 1.08 million came from New York.

Not-so-fun stat: The latest downturn in jobs has largely been pinned on the resurgence of the pandemic. However, the January job cuts report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that the three industries with the most layoffs last month were aerospace/defense, telecommunications and warehousing — three industries not highly correlated to pandemic shutdowns.

  • Demand downturn, restructuring and market conditions all were cited ahead of COVID-19 as reasons for the layoffs.

Go deeper: A million American mothers are out of work

Go deeper

Senate Dems receive max donations from Nord Stream 2 lobbyist

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A major Democratic donor and Nord Stream 2 lobbyist has made maximum campaign contributions this year to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and vulnerable Senate Democrats, campaign finance records show.

Why it matters: If pressure from the White House to vote against reimposing sanctions on the Russia-backed natural gas pipeline weren't enough, Democrats who back such legislation also will be at loggerheads with one of their party's top fundraisers.

McConnell: No legislative agenda for 2022 midterms

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Mitch McConnell has told colleagues and donors Senate Republicans won't release a legislative agenda before next year's midterms, according to people who've attended private meetings with the minority leader.

Why it matters: Every midterm cycle, there are Republican donors and operatives who argue the party should release a positive, pro-active governing outline around which candidates can rally. McConnell adamantly rejects this idea, preferring to skewer Democrats for their perceived failures.

1 hour ago - World

COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming

Recreated from Our World in Data; Chart: Axios Visuals

South Africa alerted the world to the Omicron variant. Now data out of South Africa may serve as a warning of what we're facing.

Driving the news: South Africa recorded 11,535 new cases Thursday with 22.4% of tests coming back positive — up from an average of about 300 new cases, with a 2% test positivity rate 10 days earlier. The country's top public health officials expect that exponential rise to continue as Omicron rapidly becomes the dominant variant.

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