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Unemployment applications rise from a pandemic low, even as economy strengthens

New unemployment claims rise
New unemployment claims rise 05:03

The number of Americans filing for first-time jobless benefits increased last week for the first time in two months, even as numbers remained near a pandemic low.

About 412,000 people filed for regular unemployment benefits in the week ended June 12, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday. That's a jump of 37,000 from the previous week's level.

Another 118,000 applications were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Insurance, a federal program for self-employed people and gig workers. 

The number of first-time claims — a proxy for layoffs — has been steadily dropping this year since hitting a high of nearly 1 million a week in January. Against that decline, the uptick in this week's numbers "should not be cause for concern yet," according to AnnElizabeth Konkel, economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab.

"The big picture is that while we are not back to a 'normal' level yet of initial claims, they are no longer astronomically high," she said. 

Other signs of economic health, such as the number of job listings, point to an improving labor market. Employers posted a record 9.3 million job openings in April, close to the number of unemployed Americans in the workforce. And 559,000 people found new jobs in May.

The economy has been strengthening as COVID-19 cases fade, but it has yet to recover more than 7 million jobs lost during the onset of the pandemic last year.  Half of the country's states are ending enhanced benefits at the end of June, with conservative policymakers concerned that the $300 a week federally funded boost through September is keeping workers from taking low-paying jobs that some employers say they cannot fill.

The number of people receiving any sort of jobless aid fell by half a million, to 14.8 million at the end of May.

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