Jobs picture continues improvement as unemployment claims slide

The U.S. jobs market edged closer to its pre-pandemic self last week as initial jobless claims totaled just 406,000 for the week ended May 22, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

While that level is still well above the norm before Covid-19 struck in March 2020, it is the closest to the previous trend since the crisis began and a decline from the previous week’s 444,000.

In a separate report, the Commerce Department left its initial estimate on first-quarter gross domestic product unchanged at 6.4%. Also, orders for long-last goods unexpectedly declined by 1.3%, against the forecast for a 0.9% gain. However, excluding transportation, orders rose 1%.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for 425,000 initial jobless claims at the second GDP reading to show 6.6% growth.

For the week ended March 7, 2020, just before the pandemic became a factor, claims totaled 212,000. As of May 23, 2020, claims totaled nearly 1.9 million.

While claims had remained elevated through the pandemic period, they’ve recently made a marked shift lower amid the economic reopening spurred by accelerated vaccines and sharp decline in Covid cases.

Multiple states also have been shutting down their extended benefits programs as business reopens and unemployment levels decline.

Continuing claims fell sharply, declining by 96,000 to 3.64 million, bringing the four-week moving average down to 3.68 million. That number runs a week behind the headline claims total.

Those receiving benefits under all programs also declined, edging down to 15.8 million amid continuing decreases in those applying through special pandemic-related programs.

This is breaking news. Please check back here for updates.

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