CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The number of Americans filing new unemployment claims dropped slightly to 376,000, falling for the sixth straight week as the U.S. economy reopens rapidly after being held back for months by the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of people signing up for benefits exceeded 900,000 in early January and has fallen more or less steadily ever since. Still, claims are high by historic standards. Before the pandemic brought economic activity to a near-standstill in March 2020, weekly applications were regularly coming in below 220,000.
Nearly 3.5 million are receiving traditional state unemployment benefits, down by 258,000 from 3.8 million the week before.
Businesses are reopening rapidly as the rollout of vaccines allows Americans to feel more comfortable returning to restaurants, bars and shops. The Labor Department reported Tuesday that job openings hit a record 9.3 million in April. Layoffs dropped to 1.4 million, lowest in records dating back to 2000; 4 million quit their jobs in April, another record and a sign that they are confident enough in their prospects to try something new.
In May, the U.S. economy generated 559,000 million new jobs, and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.8% from 6.1% in April. Many economists expected to see even faster job growth. The United States is still short 7.6 million jobs from where it stood in February 2020.
“With the recent word of 9.3 million job openings as of the end of April, matching the official number of unemployed in the recently released May jobs report, there are plenty of crosscurrents in the economy,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “With an unprecedented reopening, following a global lockdown, why would anyone think this would be simple or easy? It is quite complicated on many levels.”
But employers are posting vacancies faster than would-be applicants can fill them. Many Americans are contending with health and childcare issues related to COVID-19 and with career uncertainty after the coronavirus recession wiped out many jobs for good. Some are taking their time looking for work because expanded federal jobless benefits pay more than their old jobs.
“With supply chain disruptions and volatile prices, the reopening remains a work in progress. But the keyword there is, indeed, progress,” Hamrick said. “That signals further opportunities for workers and businesses in the months to come, coinciding with a steady decline in the jobless rate.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.