US jobless claims fall to new pandemic low of 290,000

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FILE – In this Feb. 9, 2021 file photo, a passer-by walks past an employment hiring sign while entering a Target store location, in Westwood, Mass. The Federal Reserve says there’s evidence that hiring has picked up in recent weeks, though the job market remains badly damaged by the pandemic. In its semi-annual monetary policy report released Friday, Feb. 19, the Fed says job data compiled by payroll processor ADP indicate that employment improved modestly through early February. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to a new low since the pandemic started, evidence that layoffs are declining as companies hold onto workers.

The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims declined 6,000 from the previous week, the third 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.

“All this signals that most employers don’t need or want to shed workers,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “It is quite the contrary, with job openings remarkably high.”

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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.

Layoff levels are increasingly returning to normal, but many other aspects of the job market aren’t. Hiring has slowed in the past two months, even as companies and other employers have posted a near-record number of open jobs. Officials such as Jerome Powell had hoped more people would find work in September as schools reopened, easing child care constraints, and enhanced unemployment aid ended nationwide.

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Yet so far, that hasn’t happened. Instead, some observers are starting to consider whether some of those who had jobs before the pandemic, and lost them, may have permanently stopped looking for work.

On Tuesday, Christopher Waller, a member of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, said that two million of the 22 million jobs lost to the pandemic may not return anytime soon because retirements have accelerated so quickly since COVID hit.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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