WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 340,000, a pandemic low, another sign that the job market is steadily rebounding from the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Jobless claims dropped by 14,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The weekly count has mostly fallen steadily since topping 900,000 in early January.
Vaccinations for COVID-19 have been supporting the job market by encouraging businesses to reopen or expand hours and consumers to return to restaurants, bars and shops. In response, employers across the country have been boosting hiring to meet a surge in consumer demand.
Still, a resurgence of cases tied to the highly contagious delta variant has clouded the economic outlook. COVID-19 cases are now surpassing 135,000 a day, up from fewer than 12,000 in early July.
The pace of weekly applications for unemployment aid is still high by historic standards. Before COVID-19 hit the United States hard in March 2020, the number averaged around 220,000 a week.
Filings for jobless aid have long been regarded as a real-time measure of the labor market’s health. But their reliability has diminished during the pandemic. In many states, the weekly figures have been inflated by fraud and by multiple filings from unemployed Americans trying to navigate bureaucratic hurdles to obtain benefits. Those complications help explain why the pace of applications remains unusually high despite strong hiring.