Initial jobless claims fell last week to yet another pandemic low in the latest sign that the economic recovery is strengthening.
About 575,000 people filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, a decrease of 9,000 from the previous week’s revised figure. It was the third straight week that jobless claims dropped.
In addition, 122,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. That was a decline of 12,000 from the previous week.
Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 553,000.
“Today’s report, and the other data that we got today, signals an improving labor market and an improving economy,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist with the career site Glassdoor. “It is encouraging that claims are continuing to fall.”
Although weekly jobless claims remain above levels reached before the pandemic, vaccinations and warmer weather are offering new hope. Most economists expect the slow downward trend in claims to continue in the coming months as the economy reopens more fully.
But challenges lie ahead. The long-term unemployed — a group that historically has had a more difficult time rejoining the work force — now make up more than 40 percent of the total number of unemployed. Of the 22 million jobs that disappeared early in the pandemic, more than eight million remain lost.
“The labor market is definitely moving in the right direction,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the online job site Indeed. She noted that job postings as of last Friday were up 22.4 percent from February 2020.
Still, she cautioned that industries like tourism and hospitality would probably remain depressed until the pandemic was firmly under control. She also stressed that child care obligations might be preventing people ready to return to work from seeking jobs.
“We still are in a pandemic — the vaccinations are ramping up, but there is that public health factor still,” Ms. Konkel said. “We’re not quite there yet.”