US jobless claims mark a full recovery to pre-COVID lows, sliding to 199,000

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  • Weekly jobless claims plunged to 199,000 last week, marking an eighth straight decline.
  • The reading is the lowest since 1969, signaling a complete recovery for claims after soaring through the pandemic.
  • Continuing claims slid to 2.05 million for the week that ended November 13, missing estimates.

The number of Americans filing for unemployment insurance returned to pre-COVID levels last week — and then some.

Jobless claims totaled 199,000 last week, the Labor Department said Wednesday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected claims to drop to 260,000. The print marked an eighth straight decline and the lowest weekly total since 1969.

The prior week's total was revised to 270,000 from 268,000. Claims data is usually published on Thursdays, but the Thanksgiving holiday led the Labor Department to publish it one day early.

Continuing claims — which count Americans filing for continuous UI support — dropped to 2.05 million for the week that ended November 13. That landed above the median forecast for 2.03 million claims.

The initial claims print shows filings fully retracing their COVID-era surge. Claims spiked to 6.1 million in March 2020 as lockdowns forced widespread layoffs. Weekly counts remained elevated through much of 2021 as the labor market slowly healed, but the Wednesday reading suggests the number of weekly filers has finally returned to past norms.

To be sure, continuing claims still sit above pre-pandemic levels by roughly 300,000 filings. And seasonal adjustments could have skewed the latest initial-claims reading. It won't be until next week that the preliminary figure is revised and economists see whether the data shows a fluke or a permanent decline.

The claims data follows a Friday job openings report that shed light on how each state is faring in its respective hiring recovery. While total openings fell to 10.4 million in September, several states saw their quit rates rise significantly as pandemic-era walkouts lingered. Less-populous states including Nevada and Montana boasted elevated quit and openings rates, signaling employers were struggling to attract and keep workers.

Hawaii had the highest quit rate and the lowest openings rate, hinting at a near stagnant hiring recovery.

The Wednesday claims report comes ahead of a big week for labor-market data. ADP's private payrolls report is slated for release on December 1, and the government's nonfarm payrolls data for November is set to be published on December 3. Both are expected to show hiring improving further from October's pace as the US recovery progressed.

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