New claims for jobless benefits in the United States dropped for the fourth straight week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as the world’s biggest economy continues its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
A total of 406,000 out-of-work employees filed for unemployment compensation, down 38,000 from the revised figure of the week before, the agency said. The figure was the lowest total since mid-March 2020 when the pandemic first swept into the country, although still nearly twice the pre-coronavirus weekly average of 218,000 in 2019.
More than half of U.S. adults have now been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, boosting the economic recovery, although the pace of inoculations has dropped from its peak a few weeks ago.
The continuing drop in the number of jobless benefit claims could presage more hiring, but U.S. employers only added 266,000 more jobs in April, down from the robust 916,000 figure in March. Nearly 10 million people remain officially unemployed in the U.S.
With the steady recovery, many employers are reporting a shortage of workers, particularly for low-wage jobs such as restaurant servers and retail clerks. Many businesses complain they are unable to find enough applicants for the job openings, even though the jobless rate remains at 6.1%, much higher than the 3.5% rate in March of last year before the pandemic was declared.
The federal government approved sending $300-a-week supplemental unemployment benefits to jobless workers through early September on top of less generous state-by-state payments. But at least 21 of the 50 states, all led by Republican governors, are now ending participation in the federal payments sooner, contending that the stipends let workers make more money than they would by returning to work and thus are hurting the recovery by not filling available job openings.
The employment picture in the U.S. has been boosted as money from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package filters through the economy. The measure could add to hiring and consumer spending, as millions of Americans, all but the highest wage earners, are now receiving $1,400 stimulus checks from the government or have already been sent the extra cash.
Biden will propose an additional $6 trillion in government spending on infrastructure repairs and assistance for children and families on Friday, according to The New York Times, but the fate of the proposal in a politically divided Congress is uncertain.
Numerous Republican lawmakers have voiced opposition to the size of the Democratic president’s spending plans and his proposals to pay for them with higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.