Unemployment claims fell 9,000 to 376,000 from 385,000 the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The number of people who signed up for benefits topped 900,000 in early January and has fallen more or less steadily since then. Still, the claims are high by historical standards. Before the pandemic nearly brought economic activity to a standstill in March 2020, weekly requests regularly came in below 220,000.
Nearly 3.5 million were receiving traditional state unemployment benefits the week of May 29, 258,000 less than the 3.8 million the previous week.
Businesses are rapidly reopening as the launch of vaccines allows Americans to feel more comfortable returning to restaurants, bars and stores. The Labor Department reported Tuesday that job openings reached a record 9.3 million in April. Layoffs fell to 1.4 million, the lowest on record 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 created 559 billion new jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 5.8% from 6.1% in April. Many economists expected to see even faster job growth. The United States is still 7.6 million jobs short from where it was in February 2020.
But employers are posting vacancies faster than potential applicants can fill them. Many Americans are grappling with Covid-19-related child care and health issues and career uncertainty after the coronavirus recession wiped out many jobs forever. Some are taking their time looking for work because expanded federal unemployment benefits pay more than their previous jobs.
Many states are scheduled to begin eliminating federal benefits this month. In total, 15.3 million people were receiving some type of unemployment assistance the week of May 22; a year earlier, the number exceeded 30 million.