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US Jobless Benefit Claims Remain at Low Level


FILE - Women walk past by a 'Now Hiring' sign outside a store in Arlington, Virginia.

First-time claims for U.S. unemployment compensation remained near a five-decade- low level last week as employers retained their workers and searched for more as the United States continues its faster-than-expected economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Labor Department said Thursday that 206,000 jobless workers made first-time claims for compensation, up 18,000 from the revised figure of 188,000 the week before, which was a 52-year low.

Even with the increase in claims last week, the figures from the last three weeks were well below the 256,000 total in mid-March of 2020 when the pandemic first swept into the country and employers started laying off workers by the hundreds of thousands.

The Labor Department said the four-week moving average was 203,750 — the lowest since November 1969.

In a statement, U.S. President Joe Biden boasted of the recovery. “When I took office, over 18 million were receiving unemployment benefits; today only 2 million are,” he said. “We’ve added nearly six million jobs this year – the most of any first-year president in history. That’s good news for the millions of families who are back to work and will have a happier holiday season this year.”

The declining number of claims for jobless benefits, down from a 2021 high of 900,000 in one week last January, shows that many employers are holding on to their workers even as millions have quit jobs to move to other companies offering higher pay and more benefits.

Many employers are looking for more workers, even as about 6.9 million workers remain unemployed.

At the end of October, there were 11 million job openings in the U.S., but the skills of available workers often do not match what employers want, or the job openings are not where the unemployed live. In addition, many of the available jobs are low-wage service positions that the jobless are shunning.

U.S. employers added only 210,000 new jobs in November, a lower-than-expected figure. But overall, the job growth through the first 11 months of the year points to a much quicker recovery than many economists had originally forecast a year ago. The unemployment rate dropped in November to 4.2%, a figure some experts had projected would not be reached until mid-2024.

The economic advance is occurring even as Biden and Washington policy makers, along with consumers, voice concerns about the biggest increase in consumer prices in nearly four decades — 6.8% at an annualized rate in November — and supply chain issues that have curtailed delivery of some products to retail store shelves.

The surging inflation rate pushed policy makers at the country’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, to announce Wednesday that by March they are ending asset purchases they had used to boost the country’s economic recovery rather than in mid-2022 as originally planned.

The Fed board also said it could raise its benchmark interest rate, now near zero, by a quarter of a percentage point three times next year to tamp down inflationary pressures.

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