New applications for US unemployment benefits fell for the fourth straight week, dropping last week to the lowest level since the Covid-19 pandemic began, according to government data released Thursday.
As the economy recovers its strength, Americans filed 348,000 new unemployment claims, seasonally adjusted, in the week ended August 14, the Labor Department reported.
That was fewer than analysts had expected and 29,000 less than the prior week, bringing claims closer to the pre-pandemic level, before Covid-19 forced nationwide business closures that caused millions of layoffs.
"These data are encouraging," Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said.
However as the fast-spreading Delta variant of Covid-19 forces some businesses to again modify operations, he warned the data "tell us nothing about the pace of gross hiring."
"It's entirely possible that firms' first reaction to the Delta wave has been to slow the pace of recruitment, before taking the more difficult decision to let go existing staff," Shepherdson wrote in analysis.
There were 109,379 new claims, not seasonally adjusted, filed last week under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program to help freelance workers, slightly more than the week prior.
There were still more than 11.7 million people receiving unemployment benefits under all programs as of July 31, according to the data, a decline from the previous week but a sign of the work still to be done to heal the US labor market.
Another pandemic low was made in the insured unemployment, indicating the number of people actually receiving regular benefits which dropped to just over 2.8 million as of the week ended August 7.