New claims for jobless benefits in the United States continued to fall last week, dropping for the sixth straight week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as the world’s biggest economy continues its marked recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Jobless claims fell by 9,000 to 376,00 from 385,000 the week before. The figure was the lowest total since mid-March 2020 when the pandemic first swept into the country. The number of people signing up for benefits exceeded 900,000 in early January and has fallen more or less steadily ever since. Still, claims are high by historic standards.
Nearly 3.5 million were receiving traditional state unemployment benefits the week of May 29, down by 258,000 from 3.8 million the week before.
Businesses are reopening rapidly as the rollout of vaccines allows Americans to feel more comfortable returning to restaurants, bars, and shops. The Labor Department reported Tuesday that job openings hit a record 9.3 million in April. Layoffs dropped to 1.4 million, lowest in records dating back to 2000; 4 million quit their jobs in April, another record and a sign that they are confident enough in their prospects to try something new.
More than 50% of U.S. adults have now been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, boosting the economic recovery, although the pace of inoculations has dropped markedly from its peak several weeks ago. Officials in many states are now offering a variety of incentives to entice the unvaccinated to get inoculated, including entry into lucrative lotteries.
In May, the U.S. economy generated 559,000 new jobs, and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.8% from 6.1% in April. Many economists expected to see even faster job growth. The United States is still short 7.6 million jobs from where it stood in February 2020.
With the steady recovery, many employers are reporting a shortage of workers, particularly for low-wage jobs such as restaurant servers and retail clerks. Many businesses complain they are unable to find enough applicants for the job openings. Employers are posting vacancies faster than would-be applicants can fill them. Many Americans are contending with health and childcare issues related to COVID-19 and with career uncertainty after the coronavirus recession wiped out many jobs for good. Some are taking their time looking for work because expanded jobless benefits pay more than their previous jobs.
The U.S. government has determined that it has no authority to force the states to continue to make the payments into September. President Joe Biden recently reaffirmed rules for accepting the extra federal aid so unemployed workers could not game the system.
“We’re going to make it clear that anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits,” Biden said. “That’s the law.”
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