The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits was unchanged last week, remaining at historically low levels reflecting the job market’s strong recovery from the coronavirus downturn last year.
Jobless claims remained at 205,000. The four-week average, which smoothes out week-to-week volatility, rose to over 206,000. The numbers show that the spread of the Omicron variant did not immediately trigger a wave of layoffs.
“Fortunately, there is no evidence in this data of a new wave of new job losses,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com. “The resurgence of the pandemic is affecting the economy. The question is how long and how much, and it is too early to know the answer.
In total, for the week ending December 11, 1.9 million Americans were collecting traditional unemployment assistance.
The number of weekly claims, a proxy for layoffs, declined steadily for most of the year. Employers are reluctant to let workers go at a time when it is so hard to find replacements. There were about 11 million job opportunities in the United States in October, and 4.2 million Americans left their jobs — just a short walk from September’s record 4.4 million — because there are so many opportunities.
The job market has bounced back from last year’s brief but intense coronavirus recession. When COVID hit, governments ordered lockdowns, consumers occupied homes and many businesses closed or hours cut. Employers cut more than 22 million jobs in March and April 2020, and the unemployment rate rose to 14.8%.
But massive government spending – and eventually the rollout of vaccines – brought the economy back on track. Employers have added 18.5 million jobs since April 2020, yet the US is still short of 3.9 million jobs before the pandemic. The unemployment rate has fallen to 4.2%, which economists consider full employment.