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US jobless claims drop to 553,000, another record low since the start of the pandemic

Ristorante Lucia restaurant's owner, Philip Frattaroli sets up tables in the courtyard.
Ristorante Lucia restaurant's owner, Philip Frattaroli sets up tables in the courtyard.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped by 13,000 last week to 553,000, the lowest level since the pandemic hit last March and another sign the economy is recovering from the coronavirus recession.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that jobless claims were down from 566,000 a week earlier. They have fallen sharply over the past year but remain well above the 230,000 weekly figure typical before the pandemic struck the economy in March 2020.

The four-week moving average, which smooths out weekly gyrations, fell 44,000 to 611,750.

Nearly 3.7 million people were receiving traditional state unemployment benefits the week of April 17. Including federal program designed to ease economic pain from the health crisis, 16.6 million were receiving some type of jobless aid the week of April 10.


The Massachusetts Office of Labor and Workforce Development said that due to a “system processing error” initial claims data for regular unemployment benefits for last week and the week prior, are “estimated values” based on data reported to the Employment and Training Administration.

Based on that data, the state reported that about 14,450 individuals filed new claims for unemployment benefits, an uptick of about 1,500 from the week prior. The state said the increase was driven by spring school vacation week, which resulted in more filings from the Transportation and Warehouse sector, which includes bus drivers.

Last week, there was a decrease in the number of Massachusetts residents filing for aid under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides assistance to those not eligible for traditional benefits, such as gig workers. There were about 1,600 initial PUA claims, down 525, marking the third consecutive week of decreases.

An additional 9,500 individuals filed claims under extended benefits programs, which provides aid to those who exhausted traditional aid but are still out of work, down slightly from the week prior.


“Layoffs are elevated but are gradually easing, consistent with an economy that is reopening,’' said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “We expect further declines in filings as businesses move closer towards normal capacity which will boost job growth over coming months.’'

Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs, and economists have long viewed them as an early indicator of where the job market and the economy are headed. But the figures have become less reliable in recent months as states struggle to clear backlogs of applications and suspected fraud muddies the actual volume of claims.

The job market has been bounding back in recent months. Employers added an impressive 916,000 jobs in March, and the Labor Department is expected to report next week that they hired another 875,000 in April, according to a survey from the data firm FactSet. The unemployment rate has dropped to 6% from a peak of 14.8% in April 2020. Before the pandemic, unemployment was just 3.5% in February 2020.

Employers are beginning to complain that they can’t find workers — despite an elevated unemployment rate. Americans may be reluctant to return to work because they still fear contracting the virus or because they need to care for children who haven’t returned to school. Another factor could be a federal supplemental unemployment benefit of $300 a week, on top of state aid, that means some low-income workers can earn more from jobless benefits than they did from their old jobs.