The employment picture is improving, with first-time claims for unemployment insurance hitting a fresh pandemic-era low.
Initial claims totaled 498,000 for the week ended March 1, against the Dow Jones estimate of 527,000. That was down from the previous week’s total of 590,000, which saw a substantial upward revision from the initially reported 553,000.
It is the 59th straight week of historically elevated jobless claims.
“A bigger than expected decline in new jobless claims is a most pleasant surprise," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. "Not only did the headline number of claims fall to a new pandemic low, but it slipped slightly below the 500,000 level. Still, more than 16 million Americans continued to receive some form of jobless assistance as of the latest count. That’s not normal, not by far.”
While the jobs market still has a long way to go before it fully heals from the pandemic damage, improvement has accelerated in recent weeks as restrictions on activity continue to be lifted.
Though the pace has eased lately, the U.S. is still vaccinating more than 2 million people a day and soon half the population will have had at least one shot.
The decline in initial jobless claims comes a day before the Labor Department releases its closely watched monthly jobs report for April. Economists expect that the economy added another 1 million jobs during the month, with hiring likely to be the quickest in the hospitality sector, which sustained the worst of the pandemic-related damage.
While last week’s numbers indicate more growth in the labor market, they won’t figure in to the nonfarm payrolls count as they are outside the survey week the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to compile its estimate.