A Big Sign That the US Economy Is on the Upswing

684K filed for unemployment benefits last week in the US, the lowest number since pandemic began
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 25, 2021 9:15 AM CDT
Jobless Claims Fall to a Pandemic-Era Low
A man walks past a "Now Hiring" sign on a window at a store on Feb. 26, 2021, in Woodmere Village, Ohio.   (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to 684,000, the fewest since the pandemic erupted a year ago and a sign that the economy is improving. Thursday's report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims fell from 781,000 the week before. It's the first time that weekly applications for jobless aid have fallen below 700,000 since mid-March of last year, per the AP. Before the pandemic tore through the economy, applications had never topped that level. Still, a total of 18.9 million people are continuing to collect jobless benefits, up from 18.2 million in the previous week. Roughly one-third of those recipients are in extended federal aid programs, which means they've been unemployed for at least six months. Their prolonged joblessness could prove to be a long-term hindrance: Typically, many people who've been unemployed for extended periods struggle to find work even as the economy regains its health.

The economy has been showing signs of emerging from the pandemic with renewed vigor, with spending picking up, manufacturing strengthening, and employers adding workers. Hiring increased in February, with 379,000 added jobs—more than double January's total. Credit card data from JPMorgan Chase shows that consumer spending jumped last week as the $1,400 checks that are going to most adults under President Biden's $1.9 trillion emergency aid package began to be paid out. Meanwhile, Federal Reserve policymakers last week substantially boosted their forecast for the economy this year, anticipating growth of 6.5% for 2021, up from an estimate of just 4.2% three months ago—the fastest pace of expansion in any year since 1984. The Fed also projects that the unemployment rate will reach 4.5% by the end of this year, down from the current 6.2%.

(More jobs stories.)

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