Jobless claims hit new pandemic-era low at 281,000 filings

·3 min read

Weekly jobless claims fell in the latest week, setting a marginal new pandemic-era low as the labor market slowly recovers to levels before COVID-19 walloped the global economy.

The Labor Department released its jobless claims report on Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET. Here were the main metrics from the print, compared to consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg:

  • Initial unemployment claims, week ended October 23: 281,000 vs. 288,000 expected and a revised 291,000 during the prior week

  • Continuing claims, week ended October 16: 2.243 million vs. 2.420 million expected and a revised 2.480 million during the prior week 

The latest jobless claims data reflect the smallest number of new filings since March 2020. The four-week moving average for new jobless claims dropped to 299,250, but that is still higher than the 225,500 in place on March 14, 2020 — just before the nationwide economic shutdown forced millions into unemployment.

"The main jobless claims series continued to push lower through today’s report, signaling that the labor market keeps recovering," Daniel Silver, J.P. Morgan's economist, wrote in a note on Thursday. 

"The latest readings for both of these series marked new lows since the surge in filings at the start of the pandemic," Silver added. 

Even as economic growth slows markedly, the numbers show that the U.S. is edging closer to its pre-pandemic normal when it comes to the labor market, though there is still some distance to cover. Weekly claims in October 2020 peaked at a rate of over 700,000, while in the same month in 2019, initial filings averaged just over 210,000.

The steady move lower in first-time filers so far this year has coincided with a jump in demand for labor, the expiration of enhanced jobless benefits, and elevated levels of quits by employees.

A record of 4.3 million people have walked off their job in August, based on the Labor Department's most recent data. Although the unemployment rate has dropped, job openings overall were at a record high of more than 10.4 million as of the end of the summer. 

"As we prepare to close the books on October, the good news is that the job market isn’t nearly as scary as the early days of the pandemic," Mark Hamrick, Bankrate senior economic analyst, wrote in an email on Tuesday.

"More employers are adding workers than shedding them, and a good number of firms and/or sectors indicate that they’re experiencing shortages of skilled labor, based on the survey just released by the National Association for Business Economics,” he added.

Continuing jobless claims also fell to their lowest level since the COVID-19 crisis began, dropping to 2.481 million as of early October. Those numbers run a week behind the headline weekly total.

The insured unemployment rate, or the ratio of people on unemployment benefits divided by the overall force, dipped by 0.1 percentage points to reach 1.7% as for the week ended Oct.16.

Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv

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