U.S. unemployment compensation claims eased last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as the world’s biggest economy appears poised to recover from the damage wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic.
The government said 712,000 workers filed for benefits last week, down 42,000 from the revised figure of the previous week.
Employers in many states are still facing directives to curtail their operations, but some state governors are revoking orders for people to wear face masks and allowing businesses to fully reopen.
In addition, President Joe Biden signed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package Thursday afternoon, legislation Democrats in Congress pushed through over uniform Republican opposition. The measure could help boost hiring and consumer spending.
About 2.1 million Americans are now being vaccinated against the virus each day, with Biden promising that any adult who wants a vaccination will be able to get one by the end of May. More than 95 million Americans have received at least one shot of one of the three available vaccines, and as that number grows, more people are regaining a sense of normalcy in their lives.
Even so, employers in many states are still confronted with orders from state and municipal officials to restrict business hours or limit the number of customers they can serve at any one time to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
For months now, the number of jobless benefit claims has remained above 700,000 a week, and above 800,000 and 900,00 in some weeks in early 2021. By comparison, in 2019, before the pandemic swept through the United States, unemployment compensation claims averaged 218,000 a week.
All the weekly totals in the last several months have been well below the 6.9 million record number of claims filed late last March as the pandemic took hold in the U.S. Still, all the weekly jobless benefit claim figures in the last 11 months have been above the highest pre-pandemic level in records going back to the 1960s.
Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell says the U.S. economic recovery is “far from complete” and that the central bank will continue to buy $120 billion worth of bonds each month to foster bank lending and consumer spending.
Under the $1.9 trillion relief deal, the federal government will continue making $300-a-week extra payments to the jobless into September, on top of less generous state benefits, a provision that will help millions of unemployed until their old jobs are restored, or they find new work.
In the U.S., only slightly more than half of the 22 million jobs lost in the pandemic have been recovered. The jobless rate dipped to 6.2% in February, with many economists saying the figure could remain elevated for months.
But the U.S. economy added 379,000 new jobs in February, the most in four months, the government reported last week.
U.S. employers have called back millions of workers who were laid off during business shutdowns in 2020. But some hard-hit businesses have been slow to ramp up operations again or have closed permanently, leaving workers idled or searching for new employment.
The coronavirus relief measure, however, almost certainly will give a new boost to the economy, easing the path for many employers to keep workers on their payrolls as coronavirus restrictions are gradually eased.
The U.S. has now recorded 529,000 coronavirus deaths and 29.1 million infections, both figures higher than that being reported in any other country, according to Johns Hopkins University.