The number of claims for unemployment benefits edged lower in the U.S. last week but remained in the same relatively narrow range it has now for two months, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
The government said 385,000 jobless workers filed for compensation, down 14,000 from the revised figure of the week before.
The weekly number of new claims, a proxy for employee layoffs, has ranged from 368,000 to 424,000 since late May, still substantially higher than the 218,000 figure in 2019 before the coronavirus pandemic swept through the United States last year and severely disrupted the world’s biggest economy.
A more complete look at the U.S. employment picture comes Friday with the release of job growth numbers for July. The U.S. added 850,000 jobs in June, with the unemployment rate at 5.9%.
The U.S. said a week ago that its economy advanced 6.5% in the April-to-June period, a slightly faster annualized pace than in the first three months of the year as the country steadily regains its footing from the economic devastation of the coronavirus.
The size of the U.S. economy – nearly $23 trillion – now exceeds its pre-pandemic level as it recovers faster than many economists had predicted during the worst of the business closings more than a year ago.
But the surging delta variant of the coronavirus is now threatening to impair business activity in some regions of the U.S. and, as a result, analysts say the economy could cool somewhat in coming months.
The second quarter growth was fueled by widespread business reopenings, vaccinations for millions of people and trillions of dollars of government pandemic aid that was sent to all but the wealthiest American families.
The weekly unemployment benefit claims total has tracked unevenly in recent weeks, but overall has fallen by more than 40% since early April, while remaining well above the pre-pandemic levels.
About 9.5 million people remain unemployed in the U.S. and looking for work. There also are 9.2 million job openings, the government says, although the skill sets of the jobless do not necessarily match the needs of employers.
Some employers are offering new hires cash bonuses to take jobs as the economy rebounds and consumers are willing to spend.
State governors and municipal officials across the U.S. have been ending coronavirus restrictions, in many cases allowing businesses for the first time in a year to completely reopen to customers. That could lead to more hiring of workers.
But the surging delta variant of the coronavirus is posing new problems that could inhibit economic growth. The number of new infections recorded each day has increased by tens of thousands in recent weeks and is still growing, especially in parts of the U.S. where millions of people had, for one reason or another, resisted getting vaccination shots.
The number of new vaccinations had been falling in the U.S. but now is increasing again as more people see others in their communities hospitalized from the virus and their lives endangered.
More than 60% of U.S. adults have now been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, boosting the economic recovery.