New US unemployment filings fell last week to their lowest level in 12 weeks, in a sign of easing pressure on the jobs market as coronavirus infections slow.
Initial jobless claims dropped to a seasonally adjusted 730,000 from 841,000 during the previous week, the labour department reported on Thursday. Economists had forecast that weekly claims would total 838,000.
The federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance programme, which provides benefits to the self-employed and others who would not qualify for regular benefits, had about 451,000 new claimants on an unadjusted basis, down from 513,000.
The labour market’s recovery sputtered in recent months following a resurgence of coronavirus across most parts of the US. Now, with new infections declining and vaccinations boosting optimism, other economic indicators such as retail sales and activity in the manufacturing and services sectors started the year strong. However, weekly claims had been slow to recede.
There were 4.4m Americans actively collecting state jobless aid in the week that ended on February 13, compared with 4.5m a week earlier and 5.2m at the start of the year. The insured unemployment rate, considered an alternative measure of joblessness, fell to 3.1 per cent from 3.2 per cent. Economists have attributed some of the decline in continuing claims to unemployed workers exhausting regular benefits.
All state and federal programmes had a combined 19m people claiming benefits as of February 6, according to unadjusted figures that are reported on a two-week delay.
A federal increase to unemployment benefits — part of the December stimulus bill — has contributed at least in part to elevated levels of weekly jobless claims this year, economists have said. Some states including California, which boasts the largest economy in the US, have also maintained some coronavirus-related curbs on businesses and social activity.
Last week, California and Ohio recorded sharp declines in weekly claims, according to preliminary figures that are broken down by state.