First-time claims for U.S. unemployment compensation during the 18-month coronavirus pandemic hit a new low last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
A total of 340,000 jobless workers filed for assistance, down 14,000 from the revised figure of the week before. The numbers for the last three weeks have been the lowest since the pandemic swept through the United States in March 2020 but remain well above the 218,000 averages in 2019.
The jobless claims total has fallen steadily but unevenly since topping 900,000 in early January. Filings for unemployment compensation have often been seen as a current reading of the country’s economic health, but other statistics are also relevant barometers.
The U.S. said last week that its world-leading economy grew by an annualized 6.6% rate in the April-to-June period, slightly faster than the 6.3% figure for the first three months of the year.
In July, the U.S. added 943,000 jobs, the seventh biggest month of job creation in U.S. history and followed with 938,000 more in June. The unemployment rate has now dropped to 5.4%, still a couple of percentage points higher than before the pandemic started.
U.S. economists are estimating that employers added another 720,000 jobs in August, according to The Wall Street Journal, with the government due to release its monthly report for August on Friday.
In all, the U.S. lost about 22 million jobs in the early months of the pandemic and now has recovered 16.7 million of them.
The size of the 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.
How fast the growth continues is an open question.
For months, the national government has sent an extra $300 a week in unemployment compensation, on top of state aid, to jobless workers. But that extra assistance is ending throughout the country on Saturday, although Republican governors in 25 states had already terminated it early. About 7.5 million jobless workers will be affected by the cutoff in extra funding.
The national unemployment aid helped many jobless workers pay their household bills through the worst of last year’s economic downturn during the pandemic, but also put new money into the economy.
The delta variant of the coronavirus also poses a new threat to the economy.
Political disputes have erupted in numerous states among conservative Republican governors who have resisted imposing mandatory face mask and vaccination rules in their states at schools and businesses, although some education and municipal leaders are advocating tougher rules to try to prevent the variant from spreading.
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. Full government approval last week of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may also persuade some vaccination skeptics to get inoculated.
More than 63% of U.S. adults have now been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and overall, 52.6% of the U.S. population of 332 million.