ST. LOUIS — The unemployment rates have been fluctuating, but recent numbers once again show troubling signs of the economic toll of the pandemic.

According to the latest report, 861,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment last week, which is the highest in a month.

In the Show-Me State, the latest numbers also show a rise of 13,490 initial jobless claims. 

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For thousands of job seekers, time is ticking, since key unemployment benefits expire in less than a month.

To help, Congress is working to get another COVID-19 relief bill.

Webster University's Political Economy Professor Allan MacNeill says $400 would be a weekly bump to those jobless benefits and last until September.

A third stimulus check could be on its way too, with $1,400 or $2,800 for joint filers, plus an additional $1,400 per dependent. This is for taxpayers making under $75,000. Checks phase out for incomes above that.

MacNeill believes this will happen before the unemployment expiration hits.

"They are going to expire on March 14, so definitely before then. I think they’ll do the package all the same time," he said. 

So once this third wave of relief hits, what could come next?

Washington University Economics Professor Steven Fazzari said it's up to the virus and vaccines.

"If the vaccinations start to improve and people start to go out to restaurants and consider traveling more, we can see the economy pick up," Fazzari adds. 

He thinks if this happens, he expects to see a strong economic rebound. 

Both professors are optimistic. Hoping herd immunity will also give the economy the boost it needs. 

"I think September is a good target date," MacNeill predicted. 

"Certainly by the fall, we’ll see better numbers in the economy and the labor numbers will follow pretty quickly," Fazzari said.

Fazzari said the worst-case scenario is vaccines are less effective with the new variants and it persists through the summer. 

But he believes the labor force will get back. 

"The job market overall will be much stronger a year from now, if the vaccine remains effective and puts COVID in the rearview mirror," Fazzari said.

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