ALL NEWS

US jobless claims fall to 684,000, fewest since pandemic

Mar 25, 2021, 7:37 AM
A "Now Hiring" sign is displayed, Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Salem, N.H. After a year of ghostly a...
A "Now Hiring" sign is displayed, Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Salem, N.H. After a year of ghostly airports, empty sports stadiums and constant Zoom meetings, growing evidence suggests that the economy is strengthening. Hiring picked up in February 2021. Business restrictions have eased as the pace of viral infections has ebbed. Yet the economy remains far from normal. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to 684,000, the fewest since the pandemic erupted a year ago and a sign that the economy is improving.

Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims fell from 781,000 the week before. It is the first time that weekly applications for jobless aid have fallen below 700,000 since mid-March of last year. Before the pandemic tore through the economy, applications had never topped that level.

Still, a total of 18.9 million people are continuing to collect jobless benefits, up from 18.2 million in the previous week. Roughly one-third of those recipients are in extended federal aid programs, which means they’ve been unemployed for at least six months.

Their prolonged joblessness could prove to be a long-term hindrance: Typically, many people who have been unemployed for extended periods struggle to find work even as the economy regains its health.

The economy has been showing signs of emerging from the pandemic crisis with renewed vigor, with spending picking up, manufacturing strengthening and employers adding workers. Hiring increased in February, with 379,000 added jobs — more than double January’s total. The economy expanded at a 4.3% annual rate in the final three months of last year, the government estimated Thursday, slightly faster than its previous estimate. That pace is widely expected to accelerate in the coming months, fueled by substantial government rescue aid.

Credit card data from JPMorgan Chase showed that consumer spending jumped last week as the $1,400 checks that are going to most adults under President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion emergency aid package began to be paid out. The Treasury says it has so far distributed 127 million payments worth $325 billion.

Last week, Federal Reserve policymakers substantially boosted their forecast for the economy this year, anticipating growth of 6.5% for 2021, up from an estimate of just 4.2% three months ago. That would be the fastest rate of expansion in any year since 1984. The Fed also projects that the unemployment rate will reach 4.5% by the end of this year, down from the current 6.2%.

Last week, some individual states reported sharp drops in applications for aid. In Illinois, they tumbled 80% to just under 15,000. In Ohio, they fell by nearly a third to 69,000.

Nationally, though, the number of recipients in an extended federal jobless benefits program jumped by 730,000 to 5.5 million, with nearly all the increase occurring in California.

Historically, the weekly unemployment claims figure has been considered an accurate reflection of the pace of layoffs. But that connection has weakened during the pandemic. Widespread fraud and the processing of backlogged claims have distorted many states’ jobless aid data. That has been particularly true for the federal program that covers self-employed and gig workers; this data has fluctuated wildly in many states.

And a report from the California Policy Lab last week illustrated another complicating factor: Many people have applied multiple times during the pandemic, having been initially laid off or furloughed, then been called back to work, then been laid off again. Each layoff has triggered a new application for unemployment benefits.

The Policy Lab’s report found that 75% of jobless claims in California in the final week of February were from people who had previously been laid off and applied for benefits.

Across the country, economic activity slowed in February as severe winter weather caused sharp drops in home salesretail spending and orders for heavy factory goods. Most economists, though, say they think the economy is now rebounding as the weather improves and additional support from the new $1.9 trillion federal rescue package kicks in.

Some analysts are increasingly optimistic that hiring will accelerate quickly this year. Two senior fellows at the Brookings Institution have forecast that employers will add a substantial 700,000 to 1 million jobs per month, on average, over the next 10 months. At the higher end of that estimate, the economy by year’s end would have regained all the 9.5 million jobs that remain lost to the pandemic.

There are still risks that could frustrate such hopes. The number of new daily coronavirus infections has leveled off, though hospitalizations and deaths continue to fall. And as many states have dropped or relaxed pandemic-related restrictions on gatherings and business activity, another wave of infections could weigh on the economy.

Though growth may accelerate this year, hiring often lags behind economic growth as businesses wait to see if rising demand is sustainable. What’s more, roughly 4 million Americans stopped looking for work during the pandemic and aren’t counted in the unemployment rate. Most of them will need to be re-hired for the economic recovery to be fully complete.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 02: 
  Elon Musk attends The 2022 Met Gala Celebrating "In America: An Ant...
Ramishah Maruf, CNN

Elon Musk speaks out on ‘Twitter Files’ release detailing platform’s inner workings

Originally Published: 04 DEC 22 09:38 ET     (CNN) — Twitter owner Elon Musk spoke out on Saturday evening about the so-called “Twitter Files,” a long tweet thread posted by journalist Matt Taibbi, who had been provided with details about behind-the-scenes discussions on Twitter’s content moderation decision-making, including the call to suppress a 2020 New York […]
1 day ago
bomb threat Utah Tech...
Devin Oldroyd

Utah Tech student dies after falling from fifth-story balcony

A Utah Tech University student is dead after falling from a fifth-story balcony early Sunday morning. The death appears to be accidental.
1 day ago
Photo of a SLCPD cruiser...
Devin Oldroyd

SLCPD arrest suspect following “highly coordinated” pursuit

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Following a highly coordinated and long search, the Salt Lake City Police Department safely arrested a 22-year-old suspect. According to a press release, Bhode Smith was booked into the Salt Lake County Metro Jail on charges of Failure to Respond to an Officer’s Signal to Stop, Failure to Stop at […]
1 day ago
Hari Bastakoti shovels a sidewalk following a snowstorm in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022...
Chandler Holt

After a cold November, Utah prepares for another storm

After a colder November than years past, a cold front (potentially bringing storm conditions) is on the horizon for Utah.
1 day ago
Image of the crash that killed two people in West Valley City on 12/3/22 (Photo courtesy of Doris S...
Chandler Holt

2 dead after crash into parked box truck

Two people died following a crash into a parked box truck in West Valley City on Saturday. 
1 day ago
(Photo courtesy of Snowbird Ski Resort)...
Chandler Holt

Avalanche at Snowbird caused by skier, no injuries

On Saturday, an avalanche roared down the slopes at Snowbird Ski Resort. Several people were caught and carried by the avalanche, but no one was buried.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
US jobless claims fall to 684,000, fewest since pandemic