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The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to 498,000 — the lowest point since the viral pandemic struck 14 months ago and a sign of the job market's growing strength as businesses reopen and consumers step up spending.
Thursday's report from the U.S. Department of Labor showed that applications declined 92,000 from a revised 590,000 a week earlier.
The number of weekly jobless claims — a rough measure of the pace of layoffs — has declined significantly from a peak of 900,000 in January as employers have ramped up hiring.
At the same time, the pace of applications still is well above the roughly 230,000 level that prevailed before the viral outbreak tore through the economy in March of this past year.
The economy grew last quarter at a vigorous 6.4 percent annual rate, with expectations that the current quarter will be even better.
The rapid turnaround has led many businesses — especially restaurants and others in the hospitality industry — to complain that they can't find enough workers to fill open jobs Some other employers are raising pay to attract applicants.
Pointing to the $300-a-week federal jobless check that was included in a $1.9 trillion rescue package enacted in March, some employers have complained that some unemployed people can receive more money from jobless aid than from a job.
Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, disputed the notion that unemployment benefits are dissuading many people from taking jobs. He noted jobless claims are declining faster in states where hiring is strong, indicating that many of the new hires had previously been receiving unemployment aid.
“It will take many months of economic recovery, vaccine progress and rebuilding of the child care infrastructure before (many unemployed) are able to find suitable work,” Stettner said. “Until then, enhanced unemployment benefits will not only sustain jobless families, but continue to power a robust recovery through greater consumer spending.”
In March, employers added nearly 1 million jobs, the most since August.
Roughly the same number is expected to be reported Friday when the government issues the jobs report for April.
Even so, the economy will still be more than 7 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level.
The government’s report Thursday showed that about 16.2 million people were continuing to collect unemployment benefits in the week that ended April 17, down from 16.6 million in the previous week.
That's a sign that some former recipients have found jobs.