Jobless claims fall to pandemic low of 498,000

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FILE – In this April 30 ,2020 file photo, a barber shop shows closed and hiring sign during the COVID-19 in Chicago. On Thursday, Aug. 27, just over 1 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, a sign that the coronavirus outbreak continues to threaten jobs even as the housing market, auto sales and other segments of the economy rebound from a springtime collapse. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The number of Americans filing new unemployment claims dropped to 498,000, the lowest level in 14 months and another sign the economy is slowly recovering from the coronavirus recession.

The U.S. Labor Department released its latest figures Thursday, showing the claims decreased by nearly 100,000 from the previous week.

The number of weekly jobless claims — a rough measure of the pace of layoffs — has declined significantly from a peak of 900,000 in January as employers have ramped up hiring.

It was the fourth straight week that claims were below the 700,000 level since March 2020 when mandatory shutdowns of nonessential businesses like restaurants and bars were enforced to slow the first wave of COVID-19 infections.

At the same time, the pace of applications is still well above the roughly 230,000 level that prevailed before the viral outbreak tore through the economy in March of last year.

“This is the 59th straight week of digestion of historically elevated jobless claims which have become less bitter to swallow,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “The U.S. economy’s continued growth is expected to be quite strong, representing the flip side of gut-wrenching and discouraging experiences of the past year as the pandemic raged.”

As vaccinations have been more widely administered, restrictions on businesses have gradually lifted and consumers have become more willing to travel, shop and dine out, stronger spending has boosted hiring, slowed layoffs and accelerated growth. The economy grew last quarter at a vigorous 6.4% annual rate, with expectations that the current quarter will be even better.

In March, employers added nearly 1 million jobs, the most since August. Roughly the same number is expected to be reported Friday when the government issues the jobs report for April. Even so, the economy will still be more than 7 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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