The number of people initiating claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level since the start of the pandemic, an encouraging breakthrough for the job market.
In the week ending March 20, there were 684,000 initial claims for unemployment insurance, a decrease of 97,000 from the week before, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor Thursday. It was the first time since mid-March of last year that the weekly number dropped below 700,000. Claims were lower than the most optimistic forecast of 695,000 cited by Econoday.
Week-to-week figures can be volatile, but claims have consistently run three to four times higher than pre-pandemic levels since late August. While the drop below 700,000 initial claims is largely a symbolic milestone, the latest data is a “step in the right direction,” Ryan Sweet, senior director at Moody’s Analytics, wrote in a commentary.
Unemployment claims have yet to catch up with other measures of economic progress this year. February saw the biggest gain in jobs in four months and consumer confidence is growing. With a new round of stimulus checks further fueling recovery, eyes now turn to see whether job numbers can maintain the momentum.