U.S. weekly jobless claims at four-month low; labor market regaining footing

March 12, 2021

WASHINGTON (Mar 12) - The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits dropped to a four-month low last week as an improving public health environment allows more segments of the economy to reopen, putting the labor market recovery back on track.

Still, a full recovery from the deep scars inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic will probably take years, with the weekly unemployment claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday also showing a whopping 20.1 million Americans collecting unemployment checks in late February.

"We're likely on the verge of much lower unemployment claims, but we're not there yet," said Robert Frick, economist at Navy Federal Credit Union in Vienna, Virginia. "Assuming COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to decline, we expect lower, and perhaps dramatically lower, claims this spring."

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 42,000 to a seasonally adjusted 712,000 for the week ended March 6, the lowest level since early November. Data for the prior week was revised to show 9,000 more applications received than previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 725,000 applications in the latest week.

Unadjusted claims dropped 47,170 to 709,458 last week, amid declines in Texas, New York and Mississippi, where claims had been boosted in the prior period by harsh weather. But there was a big jump in claims in California.

Filings also rose in Ohio, which has been plagued by fraudulent applications. The state accounted for 18% of the claims filed last week, though it makes up only 3.7% of total employment.

"If these claims were genuine, more than 20% of Ohio workers lost their job in February," said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economic advisor at Brean Capital in New York. "Removing this distortion alone would lower the total number of claims in recent weeks for the U.S. by about 100,000."

Including a government-funded program for the self-employed, gig workers and others who do not qualify for the regular state programs, 1.2 million people filed claims last week.

New coronavirus infections have dropped for eight straight weeks, declining 12% last week, according to a Reuters analysis of state, county and CDC data. Vaccinations jumped to a record 2.2 million shots per day and virus-related deaths fell 18%.

That, together with nearly $900 billion in additional pandemic relief money advanced by the government in late December, fired up consumer spending and hiring in February after declining in December.

President Joe Biden signed his $1.9 trillion stimulus bill into law on Thursday, which he hailed as "rebuilding the backbone of this country."

The package will send fresh aid to small businesses as well as one-time $1,400 checks to mostly lower- and middle-income households. A government-funded $300 weekly unemployment supplement will be extended through Sept. 6.

Stocks on Wall Street rose, with the S&P 500 .SPX and the Dow .DJI indexes hitting all-time highs. The dollar fell against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were lower.


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