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Jobless claims hit back-to-back pandemic lows as recovery strengthens

Lower-than-expected tally fuels hopes economy is rebounding as coronavirus vaccinations pick up and stimulus funds continue to reach U.S. households

Weekly jobless claims declined 39,000 from a revised 586,000 last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

Americans filed 547,000 first-time unemployment claims last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, hitting a pandemic low for the second week in a row as the recovery gains steam.

Last week’s surprise drop, since revised to 586,000 initial claims, coupled with news that March retail sales had notched one of the largest jumps on record, fueled hopes that the economy was rebounding as coronavirus vaccinations picked up and stimulus funds continued to reach U.S. households.

Steep drop in jobless claims, soaring retail sales buoy hopes for a robust recovery

There’s still a long way to go before unemployment reaches pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, average weekly initial claims hovered around 218,000. But Mike Loewengart, managing director of investment strategy at E-Trade, said the back-to-back reports of unexpectedly lower claims signal “significant momentum” in the labor market.

“With the lowest levels we’ve seen since the pandemic hit, there’s no doubt we’re moving in the right direction, as we start to see some loosening of business restrictions, calls to return to work, and vaccines continuing to roll out,” Loewengart said in comments emailed to The Washington Post.

Last week, 133,319 Americans filed claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for gig and self-employed workers.

New York, Florida, Alabama, Washington and Georgia saw the biggest increases in first-time unemployment claims for the week ended April 10. California, Texas, Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia saw the biggest decreases.

Poverty rose to 11.7 percent in March, the highest level of the pandemic, according to research from the University of Chicago and University of Notre Dame, as Americans awaited the next round of stimulus relief. Children, non-minorities and women were hit the hardest by the spike, researchers said.

Many left behind in this recovery have something in common: No college degree

Many economists describe the recovery as “K-shaped” because of its diverging prospects for the rich and poor. But the divide also is being felt across gender lines. Although the U.S. economy added 916,000 positions back in March, only about a third of these jobs were regained by women. Women would need nearly 15 straight months of job gains at last month’s level to recover the more than 4.6 million net jobs they have lost since February 2020, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

The pandemic’s disruption has created inescapable financial strain for many Americans. Nearly 2 in 5 adults have postponed major financial decisions, from buying cars or houses to getting married or having children, because of the coronavirus crisis, according to a survey last week from Bankrate.com. Among younger adults, ages 18 to 34, 59 percent said they had delayed a financial milestone.

The U.S. government approved trillions in aid. Many hard-hit families have yet to receive it.

Roughly a third of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, President Biden announced this week. But vaccination rates are starting to slow: After weeks of accelerating daily inoculations, the average daily number of reported shots administered nationally has fallen 11 percent, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“While surges in COVID variant infections remains a near-term risk, outlook for US growth has been upgraded sharply,” Anu Gaggar, senior global investment analyst for Commonwealth Financial Network, said in comments emailed to The Post. “As more Americans get vaccinated and feel comfortable traveling, going to restaurants, sporting events and live entertainment, more and more people will be able to return to the workforce, if they choose to.”

On Wednesday, Biden pressed businesses and nonprofits to give employees paid time off for the shots, and touted government funding to underwrite some of those costs.

“I’m calling on every employer large and small in every state to give employees the time off they need, with pay, to get vaccinated,” Biden said. “No working American should lose a single dollar from their paycheck because they chose to fulfill their patriotic duty of getting vaccinated.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: Vaccines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 12 and older get an updated coronavirus booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant circulating now. You’re eligible for the shot if it has been at least two months since your initial vaccine or your last booster. An initial vaccine series for children under 5, meanwhile, became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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