US unemployment claims drop to a pandemic low of 498,000

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to 498,000 last week, the lowest level since the viral pandemic struck 14 months ago and a sign of the job market’s growing strength as businesses reopen and consumers increase spending.

According to the Labor Department’s report on Thursday, applications fell 92,000 from a revised 590,000 a week earlier. The number of weekly jobless claims — a rough measure of the rate of layoffs — has dropped significantly from a high of 900,000 in January, as employers have increased hiring.

At the same time, the rate of applications is still well above the approximately 230,000 level that existed prior to the viral outbreak that ravaged the economy in March of last year.

As vaccines became more readily available, business restrictions gradually eased, and customers became more eager to fly, shop, and dine out, increased spending has improved hiring, slowed layoffs, and accelerated development. The economy expanded at a robust 6.4 percent annual pace in the previous quarter, and the current quarter is expected to be even better.

Because of the quick turnaround, many companies, especially restaurants and others in the hospitality industry, have complained that they can’t find enough employees to fill open positions. Many employers are increasing pay to attract candidates.

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