Jobless claims dropped by 10,000 to 281,000, lowest since mid-March 2020, the Labor Department said Thursday. Since topping 900,000 in early January, weekly applications have steadily dropped, moving ever closer to pre-pandemic levels just above 200,000.
The four-week average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week gyrations, fell by nearly 21,000 to 299,250, also a pandemic low.
In all, 2.2 million people were collecting unemployment checks the week of Oct. 16, down from 7.7 million a year earlier.
And hiring slowed sharply last month — to just 194,000 new jobs after averaging a 607,000 a month the first eight months of the year. That is partly because companies can't find enough people to fill their job openings — 10.4 million in August, second-highest in records going back to 2000.
Jobless claims “continue to trend lower, gradually moving closer to levels prevailing prior to the recession,” Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a research report. “Businesses are holding on to workers amid reports of severe labor shortages.″
Many Americans have retired. Others are still wary of the health outlook or struggling with daycare issues. Still others are rethinking their lives and careers after spending months locked down at home.