The Oklahoman

Unemployme­nt claims fall to new pandemic low of 290,000

- Christophe­r Rugaber

WASHINGTON – The number of Americans applying for unemployme­nt benefits last week fell to a new low since the pandemic began, evidence that layoffs are declining as companies hold onto workers.

Unemployme­nt claims dropped 6,000 to 290,000 last week, the third straight drop, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the fewest people to apply for benefits since March 14, 2020, when the pandemic intensified. Applicatio­ns for jobless aid, which generally track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily from about 900,000 in January.

Unemployme­nt claims are increasing­ly returning to normal, but many other aspects of the job market haven’t yet done so. Hiring has slowed in the past two months, even as companies and other employers have posted a near-record number of open jobs. Officials such as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell had hoped more people would find work in September as schools reopened, easing child care constraint­s, and enhanced unemployme­nt aid ended nationwide.

Yet so far, that hasn’t happened. Instead, some observers are starting to consider whether some of those who had jobs before the pandemic, and lost them, may have permanentl­y stopped looking for work.

On Tuesday, Christophe­r Waller, a member of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, said that 2 million of the 22 million jobs lost to the pandemic may not return anytime soon because retirement­s have accelerate­d so quickly since COVID-19 hit.

The Labor Department’s report Thursday also showed that the number of people receiving jobless aid continues to fall steadily. In the week of Oct. 2, the latest data available, 3.3 million people received unemployme­nt benefits, down from 3.6 million in the previous week.

A year ago, nearly 24 million people were getting unemployme­nt aid.

About 7 million people lost jobless benefits in September after two emergency programs, set up in March 2020, expired. One of the programs provided aid to gig workers and the self-employed, who traditiona­lly are not eligible to receive unemployme­nt insurance, and the second covered workers who have been unemployed for longer than six months. And an extra $300 a week in federal unemployme­nt benefits expired nationwide Sept. 6.

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