Fewer Americans made new claims for unemployment benefits last week than at any point since the pandemic began, according to government data released Thursday, the latest sign of progress in the job market following last year's mass layoffs.
First-time jobless claims fell 35,000 to 310,000 last week, seasonally adjusted, the Labor Department said, hitting a new pandemic low for the second straight week and putting them closer to their level before Covid-19 broke out.
Another 96,168 applications, not seasonally adjusted, were filed under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program in the last week of its existence nationwide.
Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said Hurricane Ida's disruptions in some US states may have kept people from filing for benefits, and he expects claims to rise next week.
"The underlying trend is still falling, despite the Delta wave, with employers preferring to cut back hiring rather than lay off staff, presumably because they fear it will be impossible to re-hire them later when demand improves, given the tightness of the labor market," he wrote in an analysis.
Despite the improvement in new filings, 11.9 million people were receiving aid as of the week ended August 21, including five million getting PUA who will lose benefits when that program ends.
Another 3.8 million were on the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which also ended this week.
After spiking into the millions when Covid-19 restrictions caused mass layoffs in March 2020, analysts are watching for initial claims to fall back to 256,000, the level the week before the virus' sudden onset.