WASHINGTON (AP) – The number of Americans claiming unemployment benefits fell for the sixth week in a row as the US economy, held back for months by the coronavirus pandemic, quickly reopens.
Unemployment claims fell from 9,000 to 376,000 from 385,000 the previous week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. The number of people signing up for benefits exceeded 900,000 at the start of January and has declined more or less steadily since. Yet the claims are high by historical standards. Before the pandemic brought economic activity to a virtual halt in March 2020, weekly demands steadily fell below 220,000.
Almost 3.5 million people were receiving traditional state unemployment benefits the week of May 29, down 258,000 from 3.8 million the previous week.
Businesses are reopening quickly as the rollout of vaccines makes Americans feel more comfortable returning to restaurants, bars and stores. The Labor Department reported on Tuesday that vacancies reached a record 9.3 million in April. Layoffs fell to 1.4 million, the lowest of all records in 2000; 4 million quit their jobs in April, a new high and a sign they have enough confidence in their prospects to try something new.
“As life normalizes and the service sector continues to gain momentum, we expect initial jobless claims to continue to decline,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief US economist at the consultancy firm economic and financial Maria Fiorini Ramirez, Inc.
In May, the US economy generated 559 billion new jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 5.8% from 6.1% in April. Many economists expected even faster job growth. The United States is still 7.6 million jobs short from its February 2020 level.
But employers advertise vacancies faster than potential candidates can fill them. Many Americans are grappling with COVID-19-related health and child care challenges and career uncertainty after the coronavirus recession permanently wiped out many jobs. Some take their time looking for work because extended federal unemployment benefits pay more than their old jobs.
Many states are expected to start dropping federal benefits this month. A total of 15.3 million people were receiving some form of unemployment assistance the week of May 22; a year earlier, the number had exceeded 30 million.