US unemployment claims drop to pandemic low 281,000

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CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to a new low since the pandemic started, another sign the economy is continuing to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims declined by 10,000 from the previous week, the fourth straight drop in a row.

Since topping 900,000 in early January, weekly applications have steadily dropped, moving ever closer to pre-pandemic levels just above 200,000. In all, 2.2 million people were collecting unemployment checks the week of Oct. 16, down from 7.7 million a year earlier.

The pandemic slammed the economy in the spring of 2020. In March and April last year, employers slashed more than 22 million jobs as businesses closed or reduced hours in response to lockdowns and consumers staying home as a health precaution.

The economy recovered with unexpected speed, helped by the rollout of vaccines and generous government relief checks and other spending. By last month, the economy had reclaimed more than 17 million of the lost jobs. But that was still 5 million short of where the labor market stood in February 2020.

And hiring slowed sharply last month — to just 194,000 new jobs after averaging 607,000 a month the first eight months of the year. That is partly because companies can’t find enough people to fill their job openings — 10.4 million in August, second-highest in records going back to 2000.

Many Americans have retired. Others are still wary of the health outlook or struggling with day care issues. Still others are rethinking their lives and careers after spending months locked down at home.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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