US weekly jobless claims sink to pandemic-era low of 576,000 as hiring accelerates

  • US jobless claims plunged to 576,000 last week, hitting their lowest level of the pandemic era.
  • Economists expected a reading of 700,000 claims. The previous count was revised higher to 769,000.
  • Continuing claims edged slightly higher to 3.73 million for the week that ended April 3.
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The number of Americans applying for unemployment insurance tumbled last week as the labor market’s rebound got back on track.

New jobless claims totaled an unadjusted 576,000 last week, according to the Labor Department. That handily beat the median estimate of 700,000 claims from economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

The sum is the lowest since claims first shot higher at the start of the pandemic and snaps a two-week streak of gains. The previous week’s reading was revised higher to 769,000.

Continuing claims, which track Americans currently receiving unemployment benefits, edged higher to 3.73 million for the week that ended April 3, the Labor Department said. That lands above the median estimate of 3.7 million.

Initial claims counts continue to hover around 700,000 as the gradual easing of lockdown measures reinvigorates the economic recovery. More than 84 million claims have been filed since they first shot higher in March 2020. That compares to the 37 million made during the 18-month Great Recession.

To be sure, weekly claims counts are volatile and are less consequential than the government’s monthly payrolls report. And where unemployment filings remain at elevated levels, payroll growth is bouncing back.

The March jobs report offered a look at just how strong the US recovery can be, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday. The economy is now at an “inflection point,” and Americans should stay vigilant as vaccination and reopening boost activity.

“We’d be wise to keep wearing masks and being socially distant, at least for a while longer,” Powell said in a video interview with the Economic Club of Washington, D.C.

The central bank chief’s comments come as new virus strains threaten to slow the rebound. Daily COVID-19 cases totaled 75,267 on Wednesday, according to The New York Times. That’s up 11% from two weeks ago.

At the same time, the US is vaccinating its population even faster in an effort to permanently curb the virus’s spread. The country is administering roughly 3.3 million doses every day, up from 3 million just one week ago. The current pace puts the US on track to vaccinate 75% of its population in just three months, according to Bloomberg data.

The virus and its strains represent the “main risk” to the nascent recovery, Powell said. With the use of Johnson & Johnson’s shot paused, the race between rising cases and vaccinations is one closely watched by the Fed, the Biden administration, and outside economists.

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