The number of Americans newly seeking jobless benefits unexpectedly rose again last week amid ongoing concerns over the surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant, the feds said Thursday. Initial filings for unemployment benefits, seen as a proxy for layoffs, rose to 351,000 last week, up 16,000 from the prior week’s revised level of 335,000, according to data released Thursday by the Labor Department. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expected to see weekly new claims drop to 320,000. “Hoped for progress on new claims for jobless benefits was not to be in the latest snapshot, posting a second straight weekly increase,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “Part of the explanation behind the increase is seen with significant jumps coming from California and Virginia, providing a total of 37,000 new claims. At the same time, hurricane-battered Louisiana posted a decline.” Weekly new claims have fallen substantially from the 2020 peak of about 6.1 million new claims in a single week, but remain above pre-pandemic levels. After a summer that saw new jobless claims settle at nearly double pre-pandemic levels, new jobless claims appear to be steadily falling — despite the setback presented by the last two weeks of data. The country was averaging just over 200,000 new claims per week in 2019. “The economy still has some heavy lifting to do under the presumption that further progress will be made in the coming months while putting the pandemic behind,” Hamrick said. Chris Giamo, head of commercial banking at TD Bank, said he thinks the consecutive increases over the past two weeks are a temporary setback that’s just interrupting a strong recovery.