The number of people initiating claims for unemployment benefits fell again last week, reaching a new pandemic low for the sixth time in seven weeks and providing optimism that the job market is healing.
In the week through May 22, there were 406,000 initial claims for unemployment insurance, 38,000 fewer than the previous week and well below the 700,000-800,000 weekly volume that had become routine over the fall and winter, according to seasonally adjusted data released Thursday by the Department of Labor. The median forecast of economists cited by Moody’s Analytics was 426,756.
Claims have fallen sharply since the beginning of April, a 45% decrease in just seven weeks. They are now about double pre-pandemic levels after being three or four times as high in most of the months following the initial crush of COVID-19 last spring.
The sustained decrease provides hope for the jobs market in the lead up to next week’s government report on May employment numbers. That report is sure to be scrutinized, particularly after a predicted hiring boom in April fizzled out, with the U.S. adding only a quarter of the roughly 1 million jobs economists had expected. The economy lost 22.4 million jobs in the first months of the pandemic, and has gained back 14.1 million of them.