The News-Times

U.S. unemployme­nt claims drop to 198,000


WASHINGTON— The number of Americans applying for unemployme­nt benefits fell below 200,000, more evidence that the job market remains strong in the aftermath of last year’s coronaviru­s recession.

Jobless claims dropped by 8,000 to Labor Department reported Thursday. The four-week average, which smooths out weekto-week volatility, fell to just above 199,000, the lowest level since October 1969.

The numbers suggest that the fast-spreading omicron variant has yet to trigger a wave of layoffs.

Altogether, 1.7 million Americans were collecting traditiona­l unemployme­nt aid the week that ended Dec. 18. That was the lowest since March 2020, just as the pandemic was starting to slam the U.S. economy, and down by 140,000 from the week before.

The weekly claims numbers, a proxy for layoffs, have fallen steadily most of the year. Employers are reluctant to let workers go at a time when it’s so tough to find replacemen­ts. The United States had a nearrecord 11 million job openings in October, and 4.2 million Americans quit their jobs — just off September’s record 4.4 million — because there are so many opportunit­ies.

The job market has bounced back from last year’s brief but intense coronaviru­s recession. When COVID hit, government­s ordered lockdowns, consumers hunkered down at home and many businesses closed or cut back hours. Employers slashed more than 22 million jobs in March and April 2020, and the unemployme­nt rate rocketed to 14.8 percent.

But massive government spending — and eventually the roll-out of vaccines — brought the economy back. Employers have added 18.5 million jobs since April 2020, still leaving the U.S. still 3.9 million jobs short of what it had before the pandemic. The December jobs report, out next week, is expected to show that the economy generated another 374,000 jobs this month.

The unemployme­nt rate has fallen to 4.2 percent, close to what economists consider full employment.

“The overall picture painted by these data points to a rapid pace of job growth,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at the consulting firm Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc. Hiring would have been even stronger “had businesses been able to hire as many workers as they wished.”

 ?? Jenny Kane / Associated Press ?? A sign seeking workers is displayed at a fast food restaurant in Portland, Ore., on Monday.
Jenny Kane / Associated Press A sign seeking workers is displayed at a fast food restaurant in Portland, Ore., on Monday.

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