The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest release of data on unemployment insurance claims shows that 473,000 people applied for benefits last week, its lowest point since March 2020. The number for last week’s claims is down 34,000 from the last week of April, when 507,000 people made claims.
The weekly number, despite a persistent downward trend, is still well above where it was before the pandemic: The number of initial claims for the week of March 14, 2020 was 256,000. Last year at this time, 2,315,000 people filed for initial unemployment insurance.
The numbers indicate that fewer businesses are laying off workers as the U.S. economy sputteringly returns to something like business as usual. They come a week after an unexpectedly tepid jobs report showed the nonfarm economy added only 266,000 jobs in April, fewer than expected.
Meanwhile, some sectors of the economy are still experiencing layoffs, including manufacturing. U.S. manufacturing in April lost an estimated 18,000 net jobs thanks to heavy losses in the transportation equipment sector.
The sluggish pace of new hires has been blamed by Republicans on temporarily expanded unemployment benefits from stimulus bills passed during the pandemic, and twelve GOP governors have announced their intentions to cut off federally-provided extra $300-a-week benefits they say can disincentivize returning to work.
President Biden has pushed back on the idea the extra benefits were to blame for last month’s hiring drop-off and said the Labor Department is working to renew requirements that those seeking benefits must apply for and accept job offers. Those requirements were suspended during the pandemic, and according to the AP a majority of states have restored them.