Weekly jobless claims fell for a sixth straight week to new pandemic-era low

·3 min read

U.S. states saw the fewest new unemployment claims since March 2020 last week, with initial filings down for a sixth straight week as economic activity picked up further. 

The Department of Labor released its weekly report on new jobless claims on Thursday at 8:30 a.m. ET. Here were the main metrics from the report, compared to consensus data compiled by Bloomberg:

  • Initial jobless claims, week ended June 5: 376,000 vs. 370,000 expected and an unrevised 385,000 last week 

  • Continuing claims, week ended May 22: 3.499 million vs. 3.665 million expected and a revised 3.757 million last week 

New filings came in below the psychologically important level of 400,000 for a back-to-back week and came ever-closer to their pre-pandemic average of just over 200,000 per week. Jobless claims have also set new pandemic-era lows for each of the past five consecutive weeks, trending lower in tandem with rising labor demand during the recovery. 

Despite the drop in headline new unemployment claims, the total number of individuals still claiming unemployment benefits has remained elevated, exacerbating concerns over widespread labor shortages. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said earlier this week that job openings in April surged to a record high of more than 9 million. A separate survey found that a record share of small business owners reported being unable to fill open positions in May. During the week ended May 22, the number of Americans claiming benefits across all unemployment programs totaled 15.3 million, dipping by fewer than 100,000 from the prior week. 

Notably, the number of Americans claiming benefits through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs has been especially high. About 11.5 million individuals were claimants of these programs as of the week ended May 22, edging lower from just under 11.7 million during the prior week. 

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About two dozen states are ending federal pandemic-era benefits early, or before their national expiration date of Sept. 6. A handful of these states – including Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi and Missouri – are ending some or all of these programs as soon as the end of this week, with state officials hoping to incentivize Americans to rejoin the workforce in absence of enhanced unemployment benefits. 

However, not all economists have agreed that phasing out these programs early might provide the intended job-seeking boost, given the myriad factors that have kept some individuals on the sidelines of the labor force over the past year. 

"There is a confluence of factors that impact a worker's decision to return, or not return to work. It appears that generous unemployment benefits are likely no more of a factor than other impediments, including childcare, transportation and health concerns, to workplace re-entry," Morgan Stanley economist Sarah Wolfe wrote in a note published June 4. "Although state-level data in coming weeks will be important, the bottom line is stripping out the disincentive effect of unemployment benefits on the labor market recovery is not simple and there are many factors influencing the return to the work place."

This post will be updated with the results of the Department of Labor's weekly jobless claims report Thursday at 8:30 a.m. ET. Check back for updates.

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Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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