Jobless Claims Again Move Closer to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Young Professional Woman in City
•••

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

The number of people initiating claims for unemployment benefits continued its slow march toward pre-pandemic levels, falling to a pandemic-era low for the fifth time in the last six weeks.

In the week ending May 15, there were 444,000 initial claims for unemployment insurance, 34,000 fewer than the previous week’s revised total, according to seasonally adjusted data released Thursday by the Department of Labor. Economists had expected 456,643 initial claims, according to a median cited by Moody’s Analytics.

The last six weeks have been a turning point for initial claims, with numbers falling by 40.2% in that span. The downward trend is especially notable after claims had spent months stuck between three and four times pre-pandemic levels. The number is now less than twice what it was the week of March 14, 2020 (256,000), the last reading before the economy locked down due to the pandemic.

The sustained decrease in initial claims likely means that fewer people are being laid off, as businesses search—sometimes in vain—to fill open positions. Last week, a government report showed there were 8.1 million job openings in the U.S. at the end of March, a record high. This followed news that a predicted hiring boom in April had actually been a fizzle, with the U.S. adding only a quarter of the roughly 1 million jobs economists had expected.

All evidence points to an eventual boom in hiring, with Oxford Economics projecting that the U.S. will add 8 million jobs this year. That would return the U.S. to just 2 million jobs below where it stood before the pandemic. At the depths of the pandemic last spring, the economy had shed 22.4 million jobs.