(AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits
fell for the fifth week in a row last week, reaching a new pandemic
low, providing further evidence that the U.S. job market is regaining strength as the economy
continues to recover.
The Labor Department
reported Thursday that jobless claims
fell to 385,000, a 20,000 decrease from the previous week, while the number of weekly applications for unemployment benefits, which generally reflects the rate of layoffs, has been steadily declining all year, though it remains high by historical standards.
The drop in applications reflects a rapid rebound in economic growth and the job market's steady recovery from the coronavirus
recession. More Americans are venturing out to shop, travel, dine out, and congregate at entertainment
venues, and all of that renewed spending has prompted companies to seek new employees.
Employers have added 1.8 million jobs
this year — an average of more than 450,000 per month — and the government's May jobs report, due out on Friday, is expected to show that they added an additional 656,000 last month, according to a FactSet survey of economists. The economy is still down 8.2 million jobs from its peak in February 2020, just before the virus hit.
Despite this, employers in the United States
are posting a record number of open positions, and many have complained that they are unable to meet rising customer demand.
Job growth slowed sharply in April
compared to March, owing to a labor shortage in some industries, particularly restaurants
and other hospitality employers.
At least 25 states have responded by announcing plans to cut off some emergency federal unemployment aid to the unemployed — including a $300-per-week federal benefit — as early as next week. Critics argue that the additional federal unemployment aid, on top of regular state jobless benefits, discourages some of the jobless from seeking work
Weekly applications for unemployment benefits, which peaked at 900,000 in early January, have steadily declined throughout the year, though they remain high by historical standards: before COVID-19
effectively paralyzed the economy in March 2020, claims were routinely falling below 230,000 per week.
In the week ending May 15, a total of 15.4 million people
received some form of jobless aid, including special federal programs to assist the unemployed during the pandemic, down from 15.8 million the previous week, and down from about 20 million in December.