First-time unemployment insurance claims fell sharply last week amid signs that hiring has picked up in the US economy, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
Claims totaled 684,000 for the week ending March 20, the first time the number has been below 700,000 during the Covid-19 era. The level was a substantial decline from the 781,000 a week ago and was the lowest since March 14, 2020, just when the pandemic had started.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had expected claims to total 735,000 after an unexpected rebound the previous week.
A separate statement Thursday morning showed that gross domestic product was stronger than anticipated in the fourth quarter. The third and final GDP reading showed a 4.3% gain, above previous estimates and the Wall Street consensus of 4.1%.
However, policymakers have been taking a closer look at employment data for clues as to where the economy is headed.
Progress over the past week showed that the job market is gaining traction amid aggressive government stimulus and a vaccination program that is seeing about 2.5 million Americans a day receiving injections intended to stop the spread of Covid-19. .
The most recent weekly claims total also marks the first time the total is less than the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 struck in early October 1982.
In addition to the drop in weekly claims, ongoing claims, which are delayed for a week, decreased to 3.87 million, a drop of 264,000.
The total of those who received benefits soared to almost 19 million, although that data is two weeks behind the numbers of claims. A continued decline in those receiving assistance under special pandemic-era programs is likely to reduce the total in the coming weeks.
Wall Street continued to signal a lower open despite better-than-expected job news.
While overall claims numbers remain high by historical standards, the employment situation is noticeably better than a year ago.
For the week ending March 21, 2020, claims totaled 3.3 million and would skyrocket to nearly 6.9 million a week later as companies laid off workers amid a series of government-ordered closures. in all the country.
Weekly claims would not drop below 1 million until the end of August, and 22.4 million workers would lose their jobs in March and April alone. Since then, nearly 13 million of those jobs have been recovered.
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