US jobless claims fall to pandemic low of 473,000

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CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The number of Americans filing new unemployment claims dropped to 473,000, a pandemic low and a sign the economy is continuing to recover from the coronavirus recession.

The U.S. Labor Department released its latest figures Thursday, showing the claims decreased by 34,000 from the previous week.

The number of weekly jobless claims — a rough measure of the pace of layoffs — has also declined significantly from a peak of 900,000 in January. Instead of cutting jobs, many employers are struggling to attract enough applicants for open positions.

With hiring up, vaccinations increasing and the economy accelerating, consumers have grown more confident and, on average, are flush with cash after limiting their spending during the pandemic. Stimulus checks have also bolstered many bank accounts.

Now, more Americans are venturing out to shop, travel, dine out and congregate at entertainment venues. The reopening has proceeded so fast that many businesses aren’t yet able to staff up as quickly as they would like.

It was the fifth 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.

Economists monitor weekly jobless claims for early signs of where the job market is headed. Since the pandemic, though, these numbers have become a less reliable barometer than they normally are. States have struggled to clear backlogs of unemployment applications. And suspected fraud has clouded the actual volume of job cuts.

The numbers come on the heels of a disappointing April jobs report, with the United States adding just 266,000 jobs last month, sharply lower than in March.

“On the heels of last week’s disappointing April employment report, including the addition of just 266,000 jobs, the Labor Department reported a record 8.1 million job openings in the U.S. at the end of March,” Mark Hamrick, senior analyst at Bankrate. “Employers across the country report challenges finding workers to fill positions.”

President Joe Biden addressed the disappointing jobs report in remarks last week, saying “we knew this wouldn’t be a sprint, it would be a marathon.”

Biden plans to spend another $4 trillion on education and childcare, middle- and low-income families, infrastructure and jobs. The Federal Reserve has signaled it intends to leave its benchmark interest rate near zero and continue to pump money into the economy.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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