Unemployment Claims Up a Bit; Manufacturing Gains

A year after they first rocketed upward, jobless claims may finally be returning to earth.

More than 714,000 people filed for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was up slightly from the week before, but still among the lowest weekly totals since the pandemic began.

In addition, 237,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers people who don’t qualify for state benefits programs. That number, too, has been falling.

Jobless claims remain high by historical standards, and are far above the norm before the pandemic, when around 200,000 people a week were filing for benefits. Applications have improved only gradually — even after the recent declines, the weekly figure is modestly below where it was last fall. Some 18 million people in total are receiving jobless assistance, many of them through programs that extend benefits beyond the 26 weeks that are offered in most states.

But economists are optimistic that further improvement is ahead as the vaccine rollout accelerates and more states lift restrictions on business activity. Fewer companies are laying off workers, and hiring has picked up, meaning that people who lose their jobs are more likely to find new ones quickly.

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