Applications for US state unemployment insurance dropped last week to a fresh pandemic low, signaling firm improvement in the job market as remaining business restrictions are lifted.
Initial claims in regular state programs decreased by 34,000 to 444,000 in the week ended May 15, Labour Department data showed on Thursday. The prior week’s figure was revised up slightly, to 478,000.
The drop in jobless applications shows the labour market continues to thaw as more Americans get inoculated and return to work. Nonetheless, the level of claims remains significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels and indicates the labour market is still far from a full rebound.
The report, which showed the third straight drop in initial claims, coincides with the survey week for the Labour Department’s monthly jobs report.
Claims data have been volatile during the pandemic amid backlogs, fraud and new programs. Also, more than 20 states have recently announced plans to pull out of federal unemployment benefit programs amid a debate about whether generous aid is making it more difficult for employers to hire.
Georgia, Kentucky and Texas led those states with the biggest declines last week, the latest Labour Department data show.
Continuing claims for ongoing state benefits unexpectedly jumped 111,000 in the week ended May 8, the largest weekly increase since the end of November.
Initial applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for self-employed and gig workers decreased slightly last week.