Weekly initial jobless claims fell to 730,000 last week, far below economists' estimates of 845,000 and a positive sign despite freezing weather across parts of the country, a nearly yearlong pandemic and a lack of additional stimulus.
While the latest figure from the Department of Labor snaps the six-week streak of first-time claims above 800,000, it is still the 49th week that the number has been higher than at any time during the Great Recession. Nearly a year into the pandemic, the weekly figures remain far above the pre-coronavirus average of 200,000 claims a week.
"For months, there’s been no substantial improvement in the magnitude of total initial claims," said AnnElizabeth Konkel, economist at Indeed Hiring Lab. "Long-term joblessness is a reality for millions of Americans. Economic pain is still being felt and, unfortunately, there is no quick fix. Only once the virus is under control can a robust economic recovery take root, which should bolster hiring and help pull the jobless back into work."
The hardest-hit industries are those in the service sectors and those that depend on travel and face-to-face customer engagement, such as restaurants, hospitality, and leisure.
Continuing claims fell to 4.419 million, still double their pre-pandemic levels, as more Americans burn through their six months of state unemployment benefits and turn to long-term federal unemployment benefits.
While the official unemployment rate is at 6.3 percent, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has said the true figure was closer to 10 percent once the numbers included all the workers who stopped looking for work. Women, in particular, abandoned their job search in order to take care of their family
“Women have taken on more of the child care duties than men have at a time when kids are going to be at home," Powell said Wednesday in his semiannual testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. “Some parts of the economy have a long way to go."