US weekly jobless claims unexpectedly drop to pandemic-era low of 547,000

Hiring coronavirus
  • US jobless claims unexpectedly fell last week to 547,000, a pandemic-era low.
  • Economists had anticipated 610,000 claims. The previous week’s sum was revised higher, to 586,000.
  • Continuing claims slid to 3.67 million for the week that ended on April 10.
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Fewer Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week as hiring picked up amid the reopening of the economy.

New US jobless claims reached an unadjusted 547,000 last week, the Labor Department said on Thursday morning. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had expected a jump to 610,000 claims. The reading marked the second straight decline and placed claims at their lowest level since March 2020.

The previous week’s reading was revised slightly higher, to 586,000.

“This dip in jobless claims looks good in isolation but what really matters is that it confirms that last week’s unexpected plunge was no fluke,” Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note. “One sharp drop in these numbers can always just be due to noise, but the further decline in today’s report indicates that layoffs are falling quickly.”

Continuing claims, which track Americans receiving unemployment benefits, fell to 3.67 million for the week that ended on April 10, the Labor Department said. That came in above the median estimate of 3.64 million claims.

Claims only recently resumed their downward trend and breached 600,000. Weekly counts held at about 700,000 through the winter and into spring as lockdown measures hindered some hiring. With warmer weather, vaccinations, and stimulus fueling a swift reopening, the labor market is back on the recovery track.

Still, some 85 million filings have been made since the coronavirus roiled the US economy in March 2020. That’s easily double the 37 million claims filed during the Great Recession. And though claims sit well below pandemic-era highs, they’re still more than double what they were before the health crisis.

The trend, for now, is encouraging. Retail sales surged by nearly 10% in March to a record high, the Census Bureau said last week. The increase blew estimates out of the water and signaled that stimulus measures Democrats passed last month quickly translated to stronger spending.

That boost stands to further aid the labor market’s rebound. Increased spending incentivizes hiring as businesses try to keep up with growing demand. Faster hiring then gives more Americans steady incomes and lifts their buying power, starting the cycle all over again.

But downside risks remain. Daily coronavirus cases have crept higher in recent weeks as new strains spread across the US. The rate of vaccination has also slowed since officials paused the use of Johnson & Johnson’s shot last week. With the US far from reaching herd immunity, the virus could still throw a wrench in the burgeoning recovery.