Weekly unemployment claims fell to their lowest level since March, dipping to 881,000 last week, the Department of Labor said Thursday.
While the claims have been hovering at or above 1 million each week for months, the latest data looks different from past weeks.
The Department of Labor announced last week that it was changing the methodology used to seasonally adjust national initial unemployment claims. Seasonal adjustment is a statistical technique the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses in an attempt to remove the influence of predictable seasonal patterns -- such as major holidays and back-to-school schedules -- on the data. The changes come as the pandemic has upended nearly all predictable seasonal patterns.
While not directly comparable to previous jobless data, Thursday's figure does offer some hope; it's the lowest weekly jobless claims figure since the pandemic began and only the second week since March that claims have dipped below 1 million.
"We’ll take good news when we can get it. Jobless claims came in better-than-expected and on the decline," Mark Hamrick, the senior economic analyst for Bankrate, said in a statement Thursday.
"This time around, we have to dig a bit deeper into how the statistical sausage is made," he added. "Because of new changes in seasonal adjustment by the Labor Department, we’re not able to compare would-be apples to oranges on new claims on a week-over-week basis as during the previous 23 weeks of the downturn."
He noted, however, that new claims have fallen steadily since the high of 6.8 million in late March. Still, the streak of pandemic unemployment claims remains at levels that squash all historical comparisons.
"The highest number seen before the pandemic was the 695,000 claims in October 1982, far below this year’s series," Hamrick said.
The government also said Thursday that the total number of Americans continuing to claim unemployment benefits through all programs was more than 29 million in the week ending Aug. 15.
Moreover, the states that saw the largest increase in initial jobless claims for the week ending Aug. 22 were California, Illinois and Pennsylvania. The largest decreases in that same time period were seen in Florida, Texas and New Jersey.
Friday's highly-anticipated jobs report will shed more light on the economy and labor market that has been clobbered by the pandemic.