New jobless claims plummet again to lowest level in 52 years

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The number of Americans newly seeking jobless benefits last week plummeted to 184,000, once again touching the lowest level reported since September 1969, the feds said Thursday.

Initial filings for unemployment benefits, seen as a proxy for layoffs, dropped by 43,000 from the prior week’s revised level of 227,000, according to data released Thursday by the Labor Department.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expected to see new claims just edge lower to 211,000.

The plummet in new jobless claims along with a high quit rate and number of openings suggest the historically tight labor market is continuing, giving workers job options, at least in the short term, and making companies desperate to hold on to workers.

Weekly new claims have been particularly volatile in recent weeks, with the figure plummeting by 71,000 as reported during the week of Thanksgiving, then shooting back up last week to above 220,000, and now dropping back down to historic levels.

The latest report puts jobless claims well beneath pre-pandemic levels, suggesting a strong rebound in the strength of the labor market.

Jennifer Duke talks to recruiters looking for home school job seekers during a job fair for employees who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Jennifer Duke talks to recruiters looking for home school job seekers during a job fair for employees who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
REUTERS/Denis Poroy
According to new data, 82.1 percent of people ages 25-54 are either working or looking for work, up from 81.9 percent in the month prior.
According to new data, 82.1 percent of people ages 25 to 54 are either working or looking for work, up from 81.9 percent in the month prior.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Jobless claims averaged 218,000 a week in 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the US economy and spurred mass layoffs.

Weekly new claims have fallen rapidly since hitting the 2020 peak of about 6.1 million new claims in a single week.

Taken together with the historically high national quit rate and the huge number of job openings across the country, the latest data all point to signs of a robust labor market that’s powering back to pre-pandemic norms, despite some potentially sticky COVID-induced setbacks.

Thursday’s report also showed that continuing claims rose by 38,000 from the prior week’s revised level, according to the new data, though they remained below the key 2 million level.

Jobless chart
Weekly new claims have fallen since the 2020 peak of about 6.1 million new claims in a single week.
Feuer, Will

That figure stood at almost 6 million at the same time last year, in the thick of the pandemic.

Complicating the US employment picture, the US added just 210,000 jobs in November, falling way short of economists’ expectations even as the unemployment rate fell sharply to 4.2 percent.

It’s worth noting, though, that such federal non-farm payroll reports have been significantly revised in recent months, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics adding an additional million jobs so far this year, in revisions alone.

That report also saw the labor-force participation rate edge higher, an encouraging sign that’s closely watched by economists.

Economic analysts have estimated that as many as 2.5 million people who have left their jobs have retired.
Economic analysts have estimated that as many as 2.5 million people who have left their jobs have retired.
Richard B. Levine/Levine Roberts via ZUMA Press
The US once again fell short of it jobs goal, only adding just 210,000 jobs in November.
Economists worry whether missing workers will ever return.
EPA/JUSTIN LANE

Among the key group of people between ages 25 and 54, 82.1 percent are either working or looking for work, up from 81.9 percent in the month prior. That’s still below the 83.1 percent participation rate booked for that group before the pandemic, suggesting there’s plenty of room for more Americans to get back to work.

Among the major concerns for economists is whether those missing workers will ever return.

Economic analysts have estimated that as many as 2.5 million people who have left their jobs have retired, including 1.5 million early retirements caused by the pandemic.

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