Jobless Claims Fall to 340,000, a New Pandemic Low

Businesses keep more of their workers

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The number of people initiating claims for unemployment insurance fell to a new pandemic-era low for the second time in three weeks, as businesses, struggling to fill open jobs, hung on to the workers they already have.

Initial claims for benefits decreased to 340,000 in the week through Aug. 28, down 14,000 from the previous week’s revised level and slightly lower than what economists expected, according to seasonally adjusted data released Thursday by the Labor Department. Weekly volumes are about 100,000 higher than they were before the pandemic, an elevated level that’s still much smaller than the 750,000-900,000 range seen for much of the last year. There’s been some progress recently in the number of claims, which have fallen in five of the last six weeks.

With businesses keeping more of their workers, layoffs are no longer the biggest issue stalling the job market recovery, wrote Dante DeAntonio, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics, in a commentary Thursday. Instead, the problem is a lack of takers for the record number of available jobs. Some have blamed the excess of job openings on pandemic-era programs that pay unemployment benefits to more people and for longer than usual.

When the extra benefits expire Sept. 6, 9.1 million people will be cut off, according to Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

But any impact the expiring programs will have on the job market will be muted, economists said, because workers could remain cautious about taking a job due to health concerns and childcare issues caused by the proliferation of the delta variant of the coronavirus. We could get our first peek at the delta variant’s effect on hiring Friday, when the government releases a report showing how many people were added to U.S. payrolls in August.

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