Afternoon Coffee: Federal Reserve keeps rates near zero; Jobless claims count worse-than-expected jump; COVID-19 vaccine booking websites glitchy

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Following the week’s Federal Reserve meetings, the Fed kept rates near zero and maintained the current pace of asset purchases, according to CNBC.

The Federal Open Market Committee voted to keep short-term borrowing rates steady near zero. It will also continue an asset purchase program where the central bank buys at least $120 billion of bonds a month, the article said.

The Fed gave a positive outlook on its expectations for economic growth in the next year, but indicated there are no interest rate hikes likely through 2023. Gross domestic product is expected to increase 6.5% this year before cooling in later years. Committee members also forecast unemployment to fall to 4.5% from the current 6.2% level, the article said.

“Following a moderation in the pace of the recovery, indicators of economic activity and employment have turned up recently, although the sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic remain weak. Inflation continues to run below 2%,” the committee said in its post-meeting statement, CNBC reported.

First-time unemployment claims jump to worse-than-expected 777,000 number

The Labor Department reported Thursday that first-time unemployment claims jumped up to a worse-than-expected 777,000 for the week ending March 13, according to the Associated Press.

Economists expected about 700,000 jobless claims. This week’s total represented an increase from the previous week’s 725,000 number. Meanwhile, continuing jobless claims stayed relatively the same at 4.12 million, the article said. The unemployment rate for February was 6.2%, on par with the rate for January too.

The latest report came amid some hopes that the US job market was showing recovery signs from the coronavirus crisis. Some states are beginning to reopen businesses while COVID-19 cases fall, and hospitalizations and deaths are down, the article said. The higher pace of vaccinations could be positive, though.

“Labor market strains are ongoing, but we expect filings (for unemployment aid) to start declining as restrictions are lifted and more normal operations resume,” Rubeela Farooqi, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics, told the Associated Press. “As businesses return to full capacity, job and income prospects will improve and combined with fiscal support, will provide a powerful lift to the economy.”

Websites booking COVID-19 vaccines yet another hurdle in mass vaccination effort

In the race to mass vaccinate a public against the COVID-19 virus, websites to book vaccine appointments have faced glitches and wrecked network capacity, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Many health organizations and companies have had to contend a tangle of scheduling difficulties, including shifting eligibility requirements and wild surges in online traffic — in addition to an unpredictable supply of vaccines. Many users are beginning to complain that vaccination-booking websites are confusing, prone to losing information or frozen, the article said.

“We’ve worked lots of hours and overtime,” Laura Marquez, assistant vice president of information-technology applications at UConn Health, told the WSJ. “But some people are struggling, especially the elderly population. Some of them don’t even have email.”

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