WASHINGTON (AP) – The number of Americans claiming unemployment benefits has fallen to its lowest level since the start of the pandemic, a sign that the labor market continues to improve even as hiring has slowed in the past two last months.
Unemployment claims fell from 36,000 to 293,000 last week, the second consecutive drop, the Labor Department said Thursday. This is the smallest number of people to apply for benefits since the week of March 14, 2020, when the pandemic escalated and initial claims fell below 300,000. Applications for unemployment assistance, which Generally keep pace with layoffs, steadily declining since last spring, as many companies, struggling to fill jobs, have kept their workers.
The drop in layoffs comes in an otherwise unusual labor market. Hiring has slowed down in the last two months, even as companies and other employers have posted an almost record number of open jobs. Companies are struggling to find workers as around three million people have lost their jobs and have stopped looking for work since the pandemic have not yet resumed their job searches. Economists hoped more people would find work in september with the reopening of schools, the easing of childcare constraints and the improvement of unemployment assistance came to an end across the country.
But the pickup did not take place, with employers add only 194,000 jobs last month. On a positive note, the unemployment rate fell to 4.8% from 5.2%, although part of this decline occurred because many unemployed people stopped looking for work and were not. no longer counted as unemployed. The proportion of women working or looking for work declined in September, likely due to difficulties finding child care or schools disrupted by COVID-19 outbreaks.
At the same time, Americans are leave their jobs in record numbers, with around 3% of workers doing so in August. Workers were particularly likely to quit their jobs in restaurants, bars and hotels, possibly spurred by fear of the delta variant of COVID-19, which was still spreading rapidly in August.
Other workers likely quit to take advantage of the higher wages offered by companies with vacant positions. Average hourly wages rose 4.6% in September from the previous year, and for restaurant workers, wage gains over the past year exceeded 10%.
The number of people who continue to receive unemployment assistance has also fallen sharply, mainly following the end of two emergency unemployment assistance programs. In the week ending September 25, the latest data available, 3.6 million people received some sort of unemployment assistance, down sharply from 4.2 million the week before. A year ago, nearly 25 million people were receiving benefits.
Emergency programs provided unemployment benefits for the first time to self-employed and concert workers, as well as those who had not worked for more than six months. More than 7 million Americans lost their weekly financial support when these two programs expired on September 6. Additional federal unemployment assistance of $ 300 also expired that week.
Many Republican business leaders and politicians have said the extra $ 300 discourages unemployed people from taking jobs. Yet in about half of the states, the additional controls were removed as early as mid-June, and those states did not experience faster job growth than the states that retained the benefits.