US weekly jobless claims sink to new COVID-era low of 406,000

  • US jobless claims dropped to 406,000 last week, marking a new pandemic-era low.
  • Economists expected claims to come in at 425,000. The weekly decline was the fourth in a row.
  • Continuing claims sank to 3.64 million for the week that ended May 15, lower than estimates.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Filings for unemployment insurance declined last week as businesses slowed layoffs amid reopening.

New jobless claims totaled an unadjusted 406,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That comes in below the median estimate of 425,000 from economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

The reading marks a fourth straight decline and places claims at their lowest point since the pandemic slammed the US economy in March 2020.

The previous week’s count was unrevised at 444,000.

Continuing claims, which track Americans receiving unemployment benefits, fell to 3.64 million for the week that ended May 15, according to the report. Economists expected continuing claims to total 3.68 million.

Weekly claims have fallen below 500,000 for three consecutive weeks, signaling the reopening of the US economy has lifted demand for labor across the country. Claims have steadily declined in recent months after trending at elevated levels since fall 2020. Still, there’s significant progress to be made before weekly counts return to the pre-pandemic norm of roughly 200,000 per week.

 

The latest reading comes as more states announce plans to prematurely end the $300-per-week federal boost to UI. Florida joined the ranks of Republican-led states cutting the benefit on Monday, with Dane Eagle, secretary of the Florida Department of Economic Security, saying the move would “help meet the demands of small and large businesses who are ready to hire.”

Broadly, the 24 states ending the benefit early are set to slash relief for 4 million Americans. And, at least for now, the Biden administration has little in the form of a fallback option. The Labor Department concluded it’s probably unable to pay the federal benefit in states that end the program, noting that UI programs are primarily organized by state governments.

Still, some advocates for UI are lobbying the White House to step in and provide pandemic-specific benefits — Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation — in states that are stopping the programs. It’s unclear whether the administration has the legal authority to do so, and Biden hasn’t yet said if he’ll take such action.

The early rollback is likely to more harm than good in some states, JPMorgan economists said Wednesday. The move to cut benefits off is “tied to politics, not economics,” and some participating states’ economies aren’t ready to remove pandemic-era aid, the bank added.

“While some of these states have tight labor markets and strong earnings growth, many of them do not,” the team said in a note.

Read more: An economic theory called ‘reallocation friction’ may explain why employers are having a hard time finding workers — and why a full recovery could be years away

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