The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell to 360,000 last week, the lowest level since the coronavirus pandemic began, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.
The reading was a decrease of 26,000 from the prior week’s revised level and the lowest level since March 14, 2020, when it was 256,000. The prior week’s level was revised up by 13,000 from 373,000 to 386,000.
The four-week moving average was 382,500, a decrease of 14,500 from the previous week’s revised average. It was also the lowest reading since March 14, 2020, when it was 225,500.
The labor market has been recovering this year from its pandemic depths, with some 850,000 jobs added in June as industries such as leisure and hospitality reopened.
But companies say it is difficult to find workers, with 9.2 million jobs currently open. Various reasons are cited for the shortages, including workers taking longer than usual to accept jobs, concerns over child care and enhanced unemployment benefits that have made lower-wage work less appealing.
Also, health concerns remain for some workers with the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus and hesitancy about vaccines in some quarters.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told members of the House Committee on Financial Services on Wednesday that the labor market still has “a long way to go.”
He said that while the overall unemployment rate is 5.9%, workers of color and those earning lower incomes are still facing higher rates of joblessness.
And the central bank’s “Beige Book”– a survey of economic conditions around the country – found that labor demand strengthened “moderately” in the past six weeks while wage pressures increased.
“Retail contacts experience difficulty finding workers despite having implemented wage increases of $1 to $2 an hour,” the survey of the Fed’s regional banks found.