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Jobless claims fall to lowest level of pandemic


WASHINGTON - New jobless claims fell to the lowest levels of the pandemic era, federal data shows, with a better-than-expected 684,000 filed last week.

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Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had expected to see a number near 735,000 after filings spiked to 781,000 the week before. The latest tally is less than the prepandemic weekly high of 695,000, set in October 1982.

Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate, said he welcomed the news, especially after months of downbeat economic trends.

"A positive surprise is welcome news," Hamrick said in an email. "Given the combination of the dynamic nature of the quickly changing conditions involving the vaccinations, the economy itself and the challenges involved with new applications, as well as the states processing and reporting them into the Labor Department, there are a lot of moving parts."

Last week's 97,000 drop in initial unemployment claims is another sign that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is easing. An additional 241,745 filed claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for gig and self-employed workers.

The total number of claims for all types of unemployment benefits was 18.95 million for the week ended March 6, according to Labor Department data.

Last week, the Federal Reserve released its most positive economic outlook in a year, projecting that the unemployment rate would fall from the current 6.2% to 4.5%, and that economic growth would see its fastest pace in four decades by the end of 2021.

"It's just a lot of people who need to get back to work, and it's not going to happen overnight," Fed Chair Jerome Powell said in a March 17 news conference, explaining that the economy still has a ways to go to catch up to prepandemic levels. "The faster, the better."

The surge in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations has slowed in recent weeks, though health officials are monitoring states that have removed restrictions on businesses and mask-wearing. The United States has seen a 4% rise in new cases in the past week.

But Americans are still holding out hope that increasingly broadened access to coronavirus vaccines are the key to returning to work, more job availability, and an improved economy. Nearly 14% of the U.S. population, or about 43.8 million people, have completed vaccination.

Hamrick noted the $1.9 trillion stimulus package and the acceleration of vaccinations and supplies to power the economic trajectory.

"There is still a massive total number of individuals receiving some form of unemployment benefit, speaking to the challenges ahead in healing the economy," he said. "On the employment front, one key issue will be labor force participation, which took a hit during the downturn. How many individuals will begin looking for work once again?"

Published : March 26, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Hannah Denham