First-time filings for unemployment claims in the U.S. dropped to 310,000 last week, easily the lowest of the Covid era and a significant step toward the pre-pandemic normal, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
Claims had been expected to total 335,000 for the week ended Sept. 4, according to economists surveyed by Dow Jones.
The total for the week ended Sept. 4 represented a substantial drop from the previous week’s 345,000 and is the lowest since March 14, 2020. Claims may have been still lower except for a substantial bump in Louisiana, which was hammered by Hurricane Ida and still has nearly 250,000 homes and businesses without power.
Initial filings had been trending around 215,000 prior to when the pandemic was declared in March 2020. At their peak, initial filings hit 6.1 million and held above 1 million a week until early August 2020. A year ago at this time, weekly claims averaged 881,000.
Concerns have escalated in recent weeks around the employment picture, particularly after the Labor Department reported last week that nonfarm payrolls increased just 235,000 in August, about one-third of what Wall Street had been expecting. Growth in some areas appears to have slowed amid rising fears over the Covid delta variant.
The claims numbers, though, have been averaging 339,500 over the past four weeks and lend support to a labor market recovery.
President Joe Biden in a statement said the claims report “is further evidence of a durable economic recovery.”
Continuing claims, which run a week behind the headline number, dropped as well, falling to 2.78 million, a decrease of 22,000 from the previous week but higher than the FactSet estimate for 2.73 million. That also is the lowest level since March 14, 2020. The four-week moving average for continuing claims dropped to 2.84 million.
Total recipients under all unemployment programs declined to 11.93 million, a drop of 255,757 as the federal extended benefits expired Monday. That number totaled 30.4 million a year ago.
Initial claims dropped most in Missouri (-7,676), Florida (-3,886) and New Yok (-3,561), according to unadjusted data. Those declines came against gains in hurricane-ravaged Louisiana (7,259), California (5,604) and Michigan (4,823).
The claims numbers come amid a burst in job openings as employers struggle to fill open positions.
Available jobs totaled 10.9 million at the end of July, according to Labor Department numbers released Wednesday. That was easily a record high and an increase of 749,000, or 7.4%, from June.
The Federal Reserve on Wednesday said job creation around the country “ranged from slight to strong” from July through August.
In its periodic Beige Book report of regional economies, the central bank also noted “extensive” shortages of available workers and said companies were raising wages to try to fill positions. The Fed said growth overall “downshifted slightly to a moderate pace” for the period.
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