US unemployment claims fall to 17-month low

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FILE – This May 7, 2020, file photo shows a man wearing a mask while walking under a Now Hiring sign at a CVS Pharmacy during the coronavirus outbreak in San Francisco. On Thursday, Nov. 12, the number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 709,000, the fourth straight drop and a sign that the job market is slowly healing. The figures coincide with a sharp resurgence in confirmed viral infections to an all-time high above 120,000 a day. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped for the fourth straight time to a new pandemic low, pointing to another month of robust job growth, though surging COVID-19 infections pose a risk to the labor market recovery.

The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims decreased by 29,000 the previous week to 348,000. The number of continued claims dropped 79,000 to 2.82 million.

The weekly number of first-time applications for benefits, which generally tracks layoffs, has fallen steadily since topping 900,000 in early January. The dwindling number of first-time jobless claims has coincided with the widespread administering of vaccines, which has led businesses to reopen or expand their hours and drawn consumers back to shops, restaurants, airports and entertainment venues. More than half of the population has been fully immunized against COVID-19.

But COVID-19 infections are surging, driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus. While economists do not expect large-scale business shutdowns as happened early in the pandemic, there are worries that soaring cases could keep some unemployed people at home, especially if children are unable to attend schools in person.

Lack of child care facilities and fears of contracting the virus have been blamed for worker shortages, which are partly contributing to employment remaining 5.7 million jobs below its peak in February 2020. There were a record 10.1 million job openings as of the end of June.

At least 25 states led by Republican governors have pulled out of federal government-funded unemployment programs, including a $300 weekly payment, which businesses claimed were encouraging unemployed Americans to stay at home. There is, however, no evidence that the early termination of federal benefits has led to an increase in hiring in these states.

“For the most part, there has not been a noticeable difference in continuing claims in states that ended federal expanded unemployment benefits programs early and those that did not,” said Veronica Clark, an economist at Citigroup in New York. “We still see signs that labor shortages might not be quickly resolved as unemployment benefits end.”

The government-funded benefits will expire on Sept. 6.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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