CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped last week, more evidence that the economy and the job market are rebounding briskly from the coronavirus recession.
The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims decreased by 14,000 the previous week to 385,000. The weekly number of first-time applications for benefits, which generally tracks layoffs, has fallen steadily since topping 900,000 in early January.
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 366,000 to 2.93 million.
Companies are posting job openings — a record 9.2 million in May — faster than applicants are showing up to fill them. Many states have responded to business complaints of a labor shortage by ending expanded federal unemployment benefits meant to ease financial strains from the health crisis, including an extra $300 a week on top of traditional state benefits. The federal benefits are scheduled to expire nationwide Sept. 6.
Nearly half the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, allowing people to travel, frequent restaurants, visit casinos and attend sporting events among services-related activities that were curbed early in the pandemic. But COVID-19 infections are surging, driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus.
“The elephant in the room is the Delta variant,” said James McCann, deputy chief economist at Aberdeen Standard Investments in Boston. “It has not prompted major changes in public health restrictions yet, but it could make some people nervous about going back to work, especially in those states in which vaccine hesitancy has held back progress.”
While economists do not expect large-scale business shutdowns like what happened early in the pandemic, there are worries that rising cases could slow the labor market recovery amid a shortage of workers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.