The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped last week to its lowest level since the start of the pandemic, the feds said Thursday.
Initial worker filings for jobless claims, seen as an indication of layoffs, reached 498,000 last week, down from a revised total of 590,000 reported the prior week, according to data released Thursday by the Labor Department. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expected 527,000 new claims.
The new data marks the fewest new filings since March 14 of last year, just before the pandemic sent claims soaring to record highs amid mass unemployment. The overall number of people on government assistance remains high, though, with over 16.1 million claiming continuing assistance, the feds said Thursday.
New jobless claims peaked at more than 6 million last year, and plateaued between 700,000 and 900,000 through the fall and winter.
The data is the latest evidence that the US economy is roaring back to life after a year of tumult brought on by the coronavirus and pandemic-related restrictions on business and activity. With nearly half of the US population vaccinated against the virus, Americans are increasingly shopping, eating out, traveling and otherwise returning to pre-pandemic life.
Last week, the US reported that the nation’s economy surged 6.4 percent in the first quarter of the year, largely thanks to government stimulus and mass vaccinations.
And over the past couple of weeks, major US companies reported strong earnings that offered fresh signals of an economy steaming ahead. Ride-hailing company Lyft, for example, reported stronger-than-expected ridership numbers Tuesday in a sign that US transit is picking up. And Amazon announced last week that it was hiking pay for more than half a million of its workers.
There are, however, factors holding the economy back. Prices of various commodities are surging due to shortages connected to supply-chain issues and other factors. The problems are driving up prices of consumer products from diapers to houses, and some economists expect the country to be grappling with inflation for months, at least.
And business owners, especially in the retail and travel industries, have said they’re struggling to recruit new workers. Some economists and companies have blamed pandemic-boosted government stimulus for making it more attractive to remain on public benefits than a private payroll.