WASHINGTON — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell for the sixth straight week as the US economy reopens rapidly after being held back for months by the coronavirus pandemic.
Jobless claims fell by 9,000 to 376,000 from 385,000 the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The number of people signing up for benefits exceeded 900,000 in early January and has fallen more or less steadily ever since. Still, claims are high by historic standards. Before the pandemic brought economic activity to a near-standstill in March 2020, weekly applications were regularly coming in below 220,000.
Nearly 3.5 million were receiving traditional state unemployment benefits the week of May 29, down by 258,000 from 3.8 million the week before.
Once again, state officials in Massachusetts 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. The state said the corrected values will be provided when they are available.
Based on that data, about 8,000 individuals filed new claims for unemployment benefits in Massachusetts last week, down about 60 from the week prior. Another 882 individuals filed for aid under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides assistance to those not eligible for traditional benefits, such as gig workers, roughly unchanged from the previous week. An additional 6,000 individuals filed claims under extended benefits programs, which provide aid to those who have exhausted traditional aid but are still out of work, down about 2,250 from the week prior.
Businesses are reopening rapidly as the rollout of vaccines allows Americans to feel more comfortable returning to restaurants, bars and shops. The Labor Department reported Tuesday that job openings hit a record 9.3 million in April. Layoffs dropped to 1.4 million, lowest in records dating back to 2000; 4 million quit their jobs in April, another record and a sign that they are confident enough in their prospects to try something new.
In May, the US economy generated 559,000 million new jobs, and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.8 percent from 6.1 percent in April. Many economists expected to see even faster job growth. The United States is still short 7.6 million jobs from where it stood in February 2020.
But employers are posting vacancies faster than would-be applicants can fill them. Many Americans are contending with health and childcare issues related to COVID-19 and with career uncertainty after the coronavirus recession wiped out many jobs for good. Some are taking their time looking for work because expanded federal jobless benefits pay more than their old jobs.