US weekly jobless claims fall more than expected to 712,000, offering an encouraging sign of labor-market recovery

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US weekly jobless claims fall more than expected to 712,000, offering an encouraging sign of labor-market recovery
Nick Oxford/The Washington Post/Getty Images
  • New US jobless claims for the week that ended Saturday totaled 712,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The reading came in below the consensus economist estimate of 775,000 and also showed a decline from the previous week's revised figure.
  • Continuing claims, which track Americans receiving unemployment benefits, declined to 5.5 million for the week that ended November 21. The reading also came in below economist forecasts.

The number of Americans filing for unemployment insurance fell by more than expected last week as the US labor market's recovery showed signs of strength.

New US weekly jobless claims totaled an unadjusted 712,000 for the week that ended Saturday, the Labor Department announced Thursday. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected a reading of 775,000. The decline snapped a two-week streak of increases for initial unemployment filings.

Continuing claims, which track the aggregate total of Americans receiving unemployment benefits, dropped to 5.5 million for the week that ended November 21. That also came in below the consensus estimate.

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Nearly 70 million filings for unemployment insurance have been made since the pandemic sparked mass layoffs in March. That handily surpasses the 37 million filings made during the 18-month Great Recession. Readings continue to exceed the 665,000 filings made during the worst week of the previous downturn.

Other reports released throughout the week detail the slowing pace of the US labor market's improvement. ADP's monthly employment report showed the private sector adding 307,000 payrolls in November, well below the 440,000 payrolls expected by economists.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics will offer the best look yet at November job growth on Friday when it publishes its nonfarm payrolls report. Economists expect the unemployment rate to fall just 0.1 points to 6.8%, and for November payroll additions to total 486,000. The improvement is expected to be the smallest since the US economic recovery began, and brings the country close to reversing some of the progress made in recent months.

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Meanwhile, the coronavirus threat shows no signs of fading. The US reported a record 195,695 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the 7-day average to 161,070, according to The COVID Tracking Project. Current hospitalizations passed 100,000 for the first time, and deaths climbed above 264,000.

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The weekly claims report is the first made since the Government Accountability Office said the Labor Department was reporting false filing counts. The watchdog found that inconsistent state data, claims backlogs, and potential fraud in the benefits system resulted in "flawed week-to-week comparisons of jobless-claims data," according to a report published Monday.

The GAO also said that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program had underpaid jobless Americans. Average weekly payments through PUA fell below the poverty line in 29 of the 41 states reporting data, the agency said.

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