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More Americans apply for unemployment benefits as layoffs remain elevated

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The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits has risen for the second week in a row, a sign that employers continue to cut jobs even as parts of the economy recover.

Some 744,000 people applied for jobless benefits the week ended April 3, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's an increase of 16,000 from the previous week. Fewer self-employed and gig workers filed for benefits, with initial filings for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance dropping 80,000 from the prior week to nearly 152,000.

Despite the uptick in claims, most analysts expect the job market to strengthen this year.

"New weekly claims have been below the stratospheric 1 million mark for three straight weeks, signalling a new stage of the jobs recovery," Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said in a statement.

Overall, jobless claims have fallen sharply since the virus slammed into the economy in March of last year. But they remain high by historical standards: Before the pandemic erupted, weekly applications typically hovered below 220,000 a week.

By most other measures, though, the economy has been accelerating. Last month employers added 916,000 jobs, the most since August, and the unemployment rate declined from 6.2% to 6%. Consumer confidence in March posted its highest reading in a year, while a measure of factory activity shot up to a 37-year high. 

"Jobless claims may bounce around week to week as the recovery takes hold, but we expect they will start to decline more consistently as the economy gains momentum," economists Nancy Vanden Houten and Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics said in a research note. 

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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