First-time claims for jobless benefits were higher than expected last week, with 719,000 more workers heading to the unemployment line, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
The total compared with the 675,000 estimate from Dow Jones and was above last week’s downwardly revised 658,000.
While the number of weekly claims remains inordinately high by historical measures, the trend is falling now that the U.S. economy continues to reopen and nearly 3 million Americans are receiving vaccinations each day for Covid-19.
Continuing claims, which run a week behind the headline number, fell by 46,000 to just below 3.8 million.
“Taking the two weeks together it’s clear that the trend in claims is falling,” wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “We expect a sustained sharp decline in the second quarter as the economy reopens, making it easier for businesses under financial stress to hold onto employees.”
In another sign of the declining unemployment trend, the four-week moving average of claims dropped to 719,000, the lowest since March 14, 2020, just as the pandemic started.
The total of those receiving benefits also dropped sharply, declining by 1.5 million to 18.2 million, due largely to a decrease in those receiving pandemic-related benefits. That data runs two weeks behind.
At the state level, Virginia (+30,696), Kentucky (15,869), Georgia (11,862) and California (9,628) reported the largest gains, according to unadjusted data. Ohio (-15,718) and Massachusetts (-12,755) reported the largest declines.
The report comes a day ahead of the government’s nonfarm payrolls count for March, which is expected to show a gain of 675,000, to follow on February’s 379,000.
Along with the efforts to combat the virus, the Biden administration continues to shovel money to boost an economy that is showing signs of solid growth. The president on Wednesday proposed a $2 trillion spending plan that will build on more than $5 trillion of stimulus either already spent or announced on programs aimed at pulling the nation out of the crisis slump.
While the pace of job gains slowed in the early part of the winter, recent indications are that hiring has picked up.
Payroll processing firm ADP estimated that the companies added 517,000 workers in March, the fastest pace since September. Recent manufacturing reports also show plans ahead for more hiring, and job gains appear to be strongest in the battered hospitality sector, which took the worst of the losses due to social distancing and government-imposed restrictions.