Weekly Jobless Claims Dip to Pandemic Low (Almost)

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In the latest sign that the job market appears back on the road to recovery, the number of people initiating claims for unemployment insurance last week fell to almost a pandemic-era low.

In the week through March 6, there were 712,000 initial unemployment claims, 42,000 fewer than the week before and the lowest total for any week but one since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor showed. Only the 711,000 claims seen in early November were lower. Economists forecasted 709,329, according to the median estimate cited by Moody's Analytics.

While the latest decline, coupled with an encouraging increase in jobs in February, would suggest incremental progress after a rough winter for the labor market, week-to-week changes can be volatile and the latest extension of a federal supplement to unemployment benefits could alter the trajectory, some economists said. 

“The extension of benefits could lead to people attempting to refile for unemployment insurance, and fraud could remain an issue,” said Ryan Sweet, senior director at Moody’s.

At 759,000, the 4-week moving average is still more than three times higher than pre-pandemic levels last March, and initial claims have yet to fall below 700,000 since the start of the pandemic.