U.S. weekly jobless claims edge down as labor market recovers

FILE PHOTO: People line up outside a newly reopened career center for in-person appointments in Louisville, U.S., April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Amira Karaoud

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell close to pre-pandemic levels last week as the labor market recovery gains momentum, though a shortage of workers continues to hamper faster job gains.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 268,000 for the week ended Nov. 13, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was the lowest level since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States more than 20 months ago.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 260,000 applications in the latest week.

The seventh straight weekly decline in claims left them just above the 256,000 level in mid-March 2020. Claims are now in a range that is associated with a healthy labor market.

They have declined from a record high of 6.149 million in early April 2020.

The continued improvement is consistent with other data that have suggested an acceleration in economic activity following a lull over the summer as a wave of coronavirus infections driven by the Delta variant battered the nation. The government on Tuesday reported a surge in retail sales in October. Production at factories also rebounded sharply last month.

The claims data covered the period during which the government surveyed business establishments for the nonfarm payrolls component of November’s employment report.

Claims have trended lower since mid-October, which would suggest stronger employment growth. But the nearly two-year long pandemic has caused worker shortages, leaving 10.4 million job openings as of the end of September.

The economy created 531,000 jobs in October. Employment growth has averaged 582,000 jobs per month this year and the labor force is down 3 million from its pre-pandemic level.

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