Scott Horsley

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a brand-new year, which begins with the very same economy that we had yesterday. But what are the trend lines for 2021? NPR chief economic correspondent Scott Horsley joins us. Scott, Happy New Year.

The wheels on the nation's buses aren't going round and round very much these days.

Demand for bus travel has fallen by more than 80% during the pandemic as public health authorities urge people to avoid travel where possible.

That is raising concerns about the potential long-term damage to an essential transport method for millions of lower-income Americans even as air travel has shown signs of picking up since the Thanksgiving holiday period.

And those who have to take the bus, for whatever reason, are finding fewer options, and often higher prices as a result.

Unemployment claims jumped sharply last week as a surge in coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths put new pressure on the U.S. economy just before critical coronavirus aid programs are set to expire.

The Labor Department said 853,000 people filed new claims for state unemployment benefits during the week that ended on Dec. 5 — a sharp increase of 137,000 from the previous week.

Claims for a special federal program for gig workers and the self-employed, who ordinarily are not eligible for unemployment relief, also jumped, by 48%.

China's economy is roaring back as Americans gobble up everything from its cellphones to its health masks, raising the stakes for trade relations with the United States as President-elect Joe Biden gets set to take over.

Data on Monday showed China notched a record $75.4 billion trade surplus in November after exports from China to the rest of the world jumped 21.1% compared to a year ago.

Updated at 9:24 a.m. ET

U.S. employers sharply scaled back their hiring last month as the coronavirus pandemic put new pressure on restaurants, retailers and other businesses.

The Labor Department said Friday that employers added just 245,000 jobs in November, down from a revised 610,000 in October.

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Get ready for one of the most unpredictable monthly jobs reports in a while.

The pandemic has come roaring back, filling hospitals with coronavirus patients, while restaurants and retail shops empty out.

That is expected to put a squeeze on job gains: Forecasters expect a report Friday from the Labor Department will show that U.S. employers added fewer workers in November than the 638,000 created a month earlier.

How much less is uncertain as the pandemic makes it hard to forecast economic indicators.

The pandemic rages on. More than 180,000 people tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday. States and cities are closing businesses. Nearly 800,000 people are applying for unemployment every week.

Despite all this, Congress has not passed an economic relief package since late April — and a set of vital relief measures helping millions of Americans avoid financial ruin and eviction are all set to expire this month.

Updated at 4:07 p.m. ET

After languishing for more than a year, Judy Shelton's controversial nomination to the Federal Reserve's board of governors appears poised for Senate confirmation in what is likely to be a narrow vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell moved to hold a vote sometime this week after Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, signaled her support for the nominee.

Shelton has attracted great scrutiny over views that place her well outside the economic mainstream.

What Brandon Fritze misses most this year is belting out Coldplay's "Yellow" at karaoke sessions with his friends.

"I was a big karaoke guy," said Fritze. "I'd be going to the karaoke bar pretty much every night. But since the pandemic started, the bar's been shut down and that wasn't an option. I don't think I've sung in eight months now."

Updated at 9:02 a.m. ET

U.S. employers added 638,000 jobs last month as the economy continued its slow recovery from the coronavirus recession. Job growth slowed for the fourth month in a row.

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When it comes to how the economy is emerging from the pandemic, voters couldn't be further apart.

A massive survey conducted by The Associated Press showed more than 4 in 10 Americans describe the economy as "good" or "excellent." And they voted overwhelmingly for President Trump.

Those who see the economy as "poor" or "not so good," on the other hand, were much more likely to cast their ballots for Joe Biden.

The U.S. economy grew at a record pace during the last three months, according to the last major economic report before the election.

Not many people are popping champagne corks, though, because GDP also shrank at a record pace during the previous three months. Despite the strong rebound in July, August and September, the economy has not yet recovered from the damage done by the coronavirus pandemic.

On its surface, economic growth data out this week will look like one for the record books. But dig in, and the picture is not as bright.

The Commerce Department is expected to report on Thursday record-setting growth in gross domestic product during the most recent quarter, reflecting pent-up demand as businesses reopened and consumers streamed back into the marketplace.

Throughout her years as a working mother climbing the corporate ladder, Farida Mercedes tried to be home for dinner with her kids. But until recently, she never imagined staying home full time.

"I respect stay-at-home moms. But it wasn't part of my DNA," said Mercedes, who spent almost two decades working for the cosmetics company, L'Oreal. "I love the hustle. I love being hungry and passionate. And I love my children. But I just couldn't see myself out of that."

When the coronavirus pandemic hit this spring, government relief payments provided a life raft to millions of people who had been thrown out of work.

That life raft, however, is now losing air, threatening to leave the unemployed in a perilous situation just as Washington leaders struggle to clinch a new package of aid ahead of the November election.

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