After falling to a pandemic low in the week ended March 20, initial jobless claims crept up again over the past two weeks, signalling that layoffs are still lingering despite many signs pointing towards a recovery. As states are gradually easing restrictions in the face of falling case numbers and vaccination progress, employers added 900,000 jobs in March, the highest gain since the summer.
According to the Department of Labor, initial jobless claims dropped to 744,000 in the week ended April 3, marking the seventh lowest level since the onset of the pandemic a year ago. For the past few months, the number of weekly claims had hovered around 800,000, never coming close to returning to pre-pandemic levels. After significant improvements in the labor market following the initial shock in March, the recovery had progressed slower than hoped, as businesses across the United States continued to lay off staff in the face of weak demand and continued restrictions. With case numbers dropping and the vaccine rollout going faster than anticipated, there’s a growing sense of optimism, which is partially reflected in the labor market.
While the overall trend in initial claims is positive, it only tells half the story. For one thing, the number of initial jobless claims remains far above pre-pandemic levels, for another thing, more than 19 million Americans still claimed unemployment insurance benefits in the week ended March 20. The data, which is released with a two-week delay, includes the recently extended Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. With more than 13 million Americans still relying on those two emergency programs alone, it’s clear that the jobs crisis brought about by the pandemic in March 2020 is still far from over twelve months later.
This chart shows weekly initial jobless claims in the United States since January 2020.
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