The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level in four months as businesses continued to recover from coronavirus lockdowns, the feds said Thursday.
Last week’s 712,000 initial jobless claims nevertheless brought the total for the COVID-19 pandemic to more than 81 million — a number nearly as large as Iran’s entire population.
New jobless filings have declined over the past month as states eased restrictions imposed to curb the deadly winter surge in coronavirus infections. Officials have also ramped up the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, which are viewed as crucial to helping the economy recover from last year’s historic downturn.
“We’re likely on the verge of much lower unemployment claims, but we’re not there yet,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union. “Assuming COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to decline, we expect lower, and perhaps dramatically lower, claims this spring.”
Last week saw the lowest number of initial claims since the first week of November, beating economists’ expectations for 725,000, according to Wrightson ICAP.
But unemployment filings have now remained above the pre-COVID record of 695,000 for 51 consecutive weeks, according to the US Department of Labor report — which was released on the anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring the virus a global pandemic.
Americans claimed more than 20 million continued weeks worth of state and federal unemployment benefits in the week ending Feb. 20, the feds’ data show — nearly 10 times as many as the same week a year ago.
Workers still relying on those benefits will get a lifeline from the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill Congress passed this week, which extends the $300 weekly unemployment supplement and other jobless aid into September.
President Biden was expected to sign the bill Thursday afternoon, just three days before the programs were set to expire.
“There is still a very long road ahead for the labor market recovery. But Congress has ensured that the unemployed won’t be left to go it alone, providing aid that is up to the scale of our task to reopen and recover,” said Andrew Stettner, an unemployment insurance expert and senior fellow at the Century Foundation think tank.