WASHINGTON (AP) – The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell from 14,000 to 385,000 last week, in new evidence that the economy is rapidly recovering from a recession caused by the pandemic.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that applications – an indicator of layoffs – fell to 399,000 last week from a week earlier. Requests have been dropping steadily since reaching 900,000 in early January. Still, they remain high: before the pandemic hit the United States in March 2020, they were around 220,000 per week.
The US economy has recovered as vaccination encourages businesses to reopen or return to normal hours and consumers to return to stores, restaurants and bars. The United States is adding more than 540,000 jobs a month this year, according to a survey of economists by FactSet, and a State Department jobs report on Friday is expected to add nearly 863,000 to the economy last month.
There are still 6.8 million fewer jobs in the US economy than in February 2020.
Companies are opening positions — a record 9.2 million in May — faster than applicants come forward to fill them. Several states have responded to business complaints of labor shortages by ending expanded federal unemployment aid, which was implemented as pandemic relief, which included an additional $300 per week payout. The state benefits will end at the national level on September 6.
Overall, about 13 million people were receiving some form of unemployment assistance in the week of July 17, compared to 13.2 million last week and 32 million a year ago.
The health crisis is not over. Cases of COVID-19 are increasing with the spread of the more contagious delta variant, mostly among uninfected people. The United States is reporting an average of 70,000 new cases a day, down from 12,000 a day at the end of June.
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