The number of people initiating claims for unemployment insurance fell for the first time in four weeks, resuming a downward trend as the latest spike of COVID-19 cases eased.
There were 326,000 initial claims for benefits last week, 38,000 fewer than in the previous week and about 20,000 less than economists had expected, according to seasonally adjusted data released Thursday by the Department of Labor. Some economists said the last few weeks may have been skewed by a reporting anomaly in California, which reported the biggest decline of any state last week after a large bump the previous week.
The new figures add optimism that the job market is improving again after the fast-spreading delta variant of COVID-19 caused a summer lull, discouraging people from going out, fueling vaccine mandates, and forcing many businesses to reinstate virus-related restrictions on in-person activities. Daily case counts are falling after a spike in July and August, and the country added 568,000 private-sector jobs in September, payroll provider ADP reported Wednesday—more than economists expected and far more than the 300,000-plus seen in June and July.
“As the Delta variant wanes and new strains pack less of a punch, more workers are able to re-enter the labor market,” Ryan Sweet, an economist at Moody’s Analytics, wrote in a commentary. School reopenings will also help, he said, freeing up more parents to fill the many available positions.
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