CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level since the pandemic began, a sign the job market is still improving even as hiring has slowed in the past two months.
The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims decreased 36,000 from the previous week, the second straight drop in a row.
That’s the smallest number of people to apply for benefits since March 2020, when the pandemic intensified. Applications for jobless aid, which generally track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily since last spring as many businesses, struggling to fill jobs, have held onto their workers.
Claims have dropped from a record 6.149 million in early April 2020 but are still above the 200,000-250,000 range that is viewed as consistent with a healthy labor market.
Hiring has slowed in the past two months, even as companies and other employers have posted a near-record number of open jobs. Businesses are struggling to find workers as about three million people who lost jobs and stopped looking for work since the pandemic have yet to resume their job searches. Economists hoped more people would find work in September as schools reopened, easing child care constraints, and enhanced unemployment aid ended nationwide.
This comes after U.S.employers added a weak 194,000 jobs in September. The overall unemployment rate fell to 4.8% from 5.2%.
At the same time, Americans are quitting their jobs in record numbers, with about 3% of workers doing so in August. Workers have been particularly likely to leave their jobs at restaurants, bars, and hotels, possibly spurred by fear of the delta variant of COVID-19, which was still spreading rapidly in August.
Other workers likely quit to take advantage of higher wages offered by businesses with open positions, or left jobs because child care for children too young to go to school has been harder to find.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.