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Jobless claims fall to their lowest level since the COVID-19 pandemic

26 states set to end extended unemployment benefits early
9 states set to end enhanced federal unemployment benefits on Saturday 07:19

The number of Americans filing first-time claims for jobless aid fell to another pandemic-era low last week, with 364,000 people applying for unemployment benefits. That's a drop of 51,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

"After two upside surprises, claims have dropped to a new cycle low, but only just — the previous low was [374,000] three weeks ago," Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said in a research note.

Another 115,000 claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program for self-employed and gig workers.

Unemployment claims have fallen gradually since January. The number of announced layoffs in June fell to a 21-year low, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across the U.S. sharply curbing infections, many consumers now have the confidence to shop, travel, eat out and attend public events. That pent-up spending has generated such demand for workers, notably at restaurants and tourism businesses, that many employers have been struggling to fill jobs. 

The number of posted job openings reached a record high in May, and some workers are finding themselves better able to negotiate for higher pay or improved working conditions.

Many economists expect hiring to catch up with demand in the coming months, especially as states curtail federal jobless aid programs and more people pursue work. So far, 22 states this year have halted a supplementary $300 in weekly unemployment benefits offered during the pandemic, with four more also set to cut the additional aid.

"While filings are moving in the right direction, layoffs are ongoing at an elevated pace even as businesses are reporting labor shortages," Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, told investors in a report. "Overall, levels will continue falling off over coming weeks as states end federal benefits."

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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