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US unemployment claims fall to new pandemic low of 290,000

A hiring sign is displayed outside a retail store in Buffalo Grove, Ill., Thursday, June 24, 2021. The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits has reached its lowest level since the pandemic struck last year, further evidence that the U.S. economy and job market are quickly rebounding from the pandemic recession. The report from the Labor Department released Thursday, July 15 showed that jobless claims fell by 26,000 last week to 360,000. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to a new low point since the pandemic erupted, evidence that layoffs are declining as companies hold onto workers.

Unemployment claims dropped 6,000 to 290,000 last week, the third straight drop, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the fewest people to apply for benefits since March 14, 2020, when the pandemic intensified. Applications for jobless aid, which generally track the pace of layoffs, have fallen steadily from about 900,000 in January.

Layoff levels are increasingly returning to normal, but many other aspects of the job market aren’t. Hiring has slowed in the past two months, even as companies and other employers have posted a near-record number of open jobs. Officials such as Jerome Powell had hoped more people would find work in September as schools reopened, easing child care constraints, and enhanced unemployment aid ended nationwide.

Yet so far, that hasn’t happened. Instead, some observers are starting to consider whether some of those who had jobs before the pandemic, and lost them, may have permanently stopped looking for work.

On Tuesday, Christopher Waller, a member of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, said that two million of the 22 million jobs lost to the pandemic may not return anytime soon because retirements have accelerated so quickly since COVID hit.

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