WASHINGTON – The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits plummeted last week to the lowest level in more than half a century, another sign the U.S. job market is rebounding rapidly from last year's novel coronavirus recession.
Jobless claims dropped by 71,000, to 199,000, the lowest since mid-November 1969. But seasonal adjustments around the Thanksgiving holiday contributed significantly to the bigger-than-expected drop. Unadjusted, claims actually ticked up by more than 18,000, to nearly 259,000.
The four-week average of claims, which smooths out weekly ups and downs, also dropped – by 21,000, to just more than 252,000, the lowest since mid-March 2020, when the pandemic slammed the economy.
Since topping 900,000 in early January, the applications have fallen steadily toward and now fallen below their prepandemic level of around 220,000 a week. Claims for jobless aid are a proxy for layoffs.
Overall, 2 million Americans were collecting traditional unemployment checks the week that ended Nov. 13, down slightly from the week before.
The job market has staged a remarkable comeback since the spring of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to close or cut hours and kept many Americans at home as a health precaution. In March and April last year, employers slashed more than 22 million jobs.
But government relief checks, super-low interest rates and the rollout of vaccines combined to give consumers the confidence and financial wherewithal to start spending again.
Employers, scrambling to meet a surge in demand, have made 18 million new hires since April 2020 and are expected to add another 575,000 this month.