Unemployment Claims Fall to Pandemic Era Low

August 20, 2021

First-time and continuing claims for unemployment benefits both fell to their lowest level since the pandemic began last week, a sign that the labor market is continuing its steady recovery despite concerns about the spread of the Covid Delta variant.

Initial jobless claims for the week ending Aug. 14 totaled 348,000, according to the Labor Department. That is below the 365,000 that economists surveyed by Dow Jones had expected and a decline of nearly 30,000 from the week before. The last time weekly claims were this low was in March 2020, just before the pandemic was initially declared, upending the global economy. Despite the drop, the number remains well above pre-pandemic levels, when weekly claims hovered around 200,000.

Continuing unemployment claims fell to 2.82 million, a decline of nearly 80,000 from the week prior. The total number of Americans receiving benefits from all of the various programs fell to 11.74 million for the week ending July 31, a decline of 311,787 from the week before. During the same week in 2020, 28.7 million Americans were collecting benefits.

The labor market has added 2.5 million jobs in the last three months and the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.4% from 6.3% at the start of the year. These numbers, while promising, do not factor in 6 million fewer Americans who are considered employed since the start of the pandemic, and most economists agree it will be some time before the workforce returns to its pre-pandemic level.

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