WASHINGTON—The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week for a fifth straight week to a new pandemic low, the latest evidence that the U.S. job market is regaining its health as the economy further reopens.
The Labor Department said Thursday that jobless claims dropped to 385,000, down 20,000 from the week before. The number of weekly applications for unemployment aid, which generally reflects the pace of layoffs, has fallen steadily all year, though it remains high by historical standards.
The decline in applications reflects a swift rebound in economic growth and the job market’s steady recovery from the coronavirus recession. More Americans are venturing out to shop, travel, dine out, and congregate at entertainment venues. All that renewed spending has led companies to seek new workers.
Employers have added 1.8 million jobs this year—an average of more than 450,000 a month—and the government’s May jobs report on Friday is expected to show that they added an additional 656,000 last month, according to a survey of economists by the data firm FactSet. The economy remains down 8.2 million jobs from its level in February 2020, just before the virus-related lockdowns tore through the economy.
Yet U.S. employers are posting a record number of available jobs. And many of them have complained that they can’t find enough workers to meet rising customer demand.
Job growth slowed sharply in April compared with March, a pullback that was widely attributed to a labor shortage in some industries, especially at restaurants and other employers in the hospitality sector.
At least 25 states have responded by announcing plans to cut off some emergency federal aid to the unemployed—including a $300-a-week federal benefit—as early as next week. Critics argue that the extra federal unemployment aid, on top of regular state jobless benefits, discourages some of the jobless from seeking work.
By Paul Wiseman of THE ASSOCIATED PRESS