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New state unemployment claims fell last week to pandemic low

The number of Americans applying for unemployment aid fell last week to 547,000, a new low since the pandemic struck.
The number of Americans applying for unemployment aid fell last week to 547,000, a new low since the pandemic struck.Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

New claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level of the pandemic, the US government reported Thursday, offering fresh evidence of the labor market’s recovery.

A total of 566,000 workers filed first-time claims for state benefits during the week that ended April 17, the Labor Department said, a decrease of 57,000 from the previous week’s revised figure. In addition, 133,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers freelancers, part-timers, and others who do not qualify for state benefits.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 547,000.

In Massachusetts, about 12,900 individuals filed new claims for unemployment benefits, down roughly 1,550 from the week prior, at the lowest level since the onset of the pandemic. Another 2,100 individuals filed claims under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, roughly the same number as the week prior.

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About 96,340 people in Massachusetts continued to collect regular unemployment benefits for the week ending April 10, down 7,990 from the previous week and the seventh consecutive week of decline.

“The bigger story — even though we’re going to see volatility week to week — is that the labor market continues to heal and labor demand is coming back quite strongly in line with robust growth,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief US financial economist at Oxford Economics.

“We’re seeing both a strong reopening in economic activity and demand for hiring,” she said.

Warmer weather, more extensive coronavirus vaccination efforts, and a stream of government assistance that has enabled consumer spending have all contributed to recent gains.

AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the online job site Indeed, said that job postings as of Friday were up 19 percent from pre-pandemic levels.

“We need elevated hirings for a while,” she said, to absorb all the workers who were laid off.

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Encumbrances remain. The labor market is weighed down by continuing anxiety about coronavirus infections and the demands of child care when regular school schedules have been disrupted.

According to the Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Survey, more than 4 million people who were unemployed in March said they were not working because they were afraid of catching COVID-19.

“It’s important to keep in mind that the trend is going in the right direction,” said Heidi Shierholz, director of policy at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, “but we’re still at crisis levels of unemployment claims.”

The weekly level of new claims is still near historical highs recorded before the pandemic. And there are roughly 8.4 million fewer jobs than there were in early 2020.

The long-term unemployed, who make up more than 43 percent of the total number out of work, face particular hurdles. The ranks of those filing claims to continue receiving emergency federal benefits — as opposed to initial claims, reflecting a recent job loss — rose in April’s early days.

The totals for state benefits aimed at helping the long-term unemployed dropped. But a new report from the California Policy Lab, a research institute based at the University of California, said some states were prematurely ending extended unemployment insurance because of the way they count claims.