US weekly jobless claims plunge to lowest level since pandemic began

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits tumbled last week to 576,000, a post-COVID-19 low and a hopeful sign that layoffs are easing as the economy recovers from the pandemic recession.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications fell by 193,000 from a revised 769,000 a week earlier. Jobless claims are now down sharply from a peak of 900,000 in early January and well below the 700,000-plus level they had been stuck at for months.

The decline in unemployment claims coincides with other evidence that the economy is strengthening as vaccinations accelerate, pandemic business restrictions are lifted in many states and Americans appear increasingly willing to travel, shop, eat out and otherwise spend again. In March, employers added a healthy 916,000 jobs, the most since August, and the unemployment rate fell to 6%, less than half the pandemic peak of 14.8%.

For the week ending March 27, 16.9 million people were continuing to collect unemployment benefits, down from 18.2 million in the previous week. That decline suggests that some of the unemployed are being called back to jobs.

Yet the still-high number of ongoing recipients shows that even as the economy has improved in recent weeks, millions are facing a loss of a job or income and have been struggling to pay bills or rent. See the report.