US jobless claims reach pandemic low as hiring strengthens

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FILE – In this Dec. 10, 2020, file photo, a “Now Hiring” sign hangs on the front wall of a Harbor Freight Tools store in Manchester, N.H. The latest figures for jobless claims, issued Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 by the Labor Department, remain at levels never seen until the virus struck. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to a pandemic low, another sign that the job market is steadily rebounding from the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Layoffs dropped to their lowest level in more than 24 years in August, suggesting the labor market was charging ahead even as new COVID-19 infections are on the rise.

The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims decreased by 14,000 from the previous week to 340,000. 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. The number of continued claims dropped 160,000 to 2.5 million.

The weekly count has fallen more or less steadily since topping 900,000 in early January as the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has helped the economy — encouraging businesses to reopen or expand hours and luring consumers out of their homes to restaurants, bars and shops.

Vaccinations for COVID-19 have been supporting the job market by encouraging businesses to reopen or expand hours and consumers to return to restaurants, bars and shops. In response, employers across the country have been boosting hiring to meet a surge in consumer demand.

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That optimism was underscored by a separate report on Thursday from global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas showing job cuts announced by U.S.-based employers decreased 17% to 15,723 in August, the lowest since June 1997. So far, employers have announced 247,326 jobs cuts, down 87% compared to the same period last year.

“Companies are much more concerned about their talent getting poached than with finding ways to cut staff. They are in full retention mode,” said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Still, a resurgence of cases tied to the highly contagious delta variant has clouded the economic outlook. COVID-19 cases are now surpassing 135,000 a day, up from fewer than 12,000 in early July.

Filings for jobless aid have long been regarded as a real-time measure of the labor market’s health. But their reliability has diminished during the pandemic. In many states, the weekly figures have been inflated by fraud and by multiple filings from unemployed Americans trying to navigate bureaucratic hurdles to obtain benefits. Those complications help explain why the pace of applications remains unusually high despite strong hiring.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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