An estimated 885,000 people applied for unemployment aid for the first time last week — a second consecutive week of increased claims, and a high not seen since the end of the summer, as negotiations for stimulus funding continue in Washington.

Economists have warned that a lack of aid for the unemployed and small businesses since Congress let some stimulus programs expire over the summer is dragging down the economy, jeopardizing the fragile recovery of the labor market as the country heads into a bleak winter of increasing coronavirus infections.

There were 455,000 new claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for gig and self-employed workers.

And about 20.6 million people were counted on the unemployment rolls as of the week ending Nov. 28, although officials say that number is inflated by duplicate claims and other issues stemming from backlogs in state unemployment systems.

Congressional leaders are working this week to finalize negotiations over a $900 billion relief package that would include more aid for businesses, a short-term extension of unemployment funding, and stimulus checks of $600 per adult and $600 per child.

In recent weeks, those deliberations have taken on increasing urgency as the economy has been flashing warning signs. In November, the country added just 245,000 jobs — the slowest month of growth since the pandemic began. Also in November, retail sales fell by 1.1 percent, as Americans pulled back on spending during the holiday shopping season, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

The December jobs report could be particularly dire, as it will take into account a new range of restrictions and shutdowns instituted around the country as coronavirus infections spike to record levels.