WASHINGTON – The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week, another sign that the US job market and economy is continuing its steady recovery from last year’s coronavirus slowdown.
The Labor Department said Thursday that unemployment claims fell from 38,000 to 326,000, the first drop in four weeks. Weekly applications, a proxy for layoffs, had fallen more or less consistently throughout the year, since surpassing 900,000 in early January. Still, they remain higher than pre-pandemic levels: before COVID-19 hit the US economy in March 2020, weekly claims were steadily coming in at around 220,000.
After hitting a pandemic low of 312,000 in early September, claims had risen for three weeks in a row, suggesting the highly contagious delta variant was impeding job recovery, at least temporarily.
Contingent Macro Advisors said the recent uptick was also partly due to backlogs in processing orders in California and other states. Shutting down at auto plants due to a lack of computer chips could cause numbers to fluctuate over the next few weeks, Accidental said, but “the trend continues to reduce unemployment claims.”
Overall, the job market has been rebounding with astonishing strength since the spring of 2020. Forced to close or restrict hours as a health precaution, employers cut more than 22 million jobs in March and April last year. But massive aid from the federal government and the rollout of vaccines have supported economic recovery, giving consumers the financial means to spend and the confidence to return to restaurants, bars and shops.
So far this year, employers are adding 586,000 jobs a month, according to a survey of economists by data firm FactSet, and in this month’s employment report, on Friday, another 488,000 are expected to work in September.
Companies are now complaining they can’t find workers fast enough to fill their job openings, a record 10.9 million in July.
Overall, 2.7 million Americans were receiving some form of jobless aid for the week of September 25, a decrease of 97,000 from the previous week. In early September, the federal government stopped additional aid—including $300 a week on top of traditional state benefits—to cushion the economic impact of the pandemic.