US weekly jobless claims slide below 300,000 to new pandemic low

US weekly jobless claims slide below 300,000 to new pandemic low
Unemployed people at a rally last year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Cory Clark/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • Weekly jobless claims fell to 293,000 last week, marking the lowest reading since March 2020.
  • Economists expected claims to drop to 319,000, which would've been just above pandemic-era lows.

The number of people filing for unemployment insurance in the US tumbled last week to the lowest level since the pandemic slammed the US economy.

Jobless claims totaled 293,000 last week, the Labor Department announced Thursday. That came in below the median estimate of 319,000 claims from economists surveyed by Bloomberg. It also marks a second-straight decline and the lowest level since March 2020.

The prior week's total was revised to 329,000 from 326,000.

Continuing claims, which track Americans receiving UI payments, fell to 2.59 million in the week that ended October 2. Economists expected continuing claims to total 2.67 million. The reading also marked a fresh pandemic-era low.

The report shows jobless claims sliding below 300,000 for the first time in the pandemic era, a key milestone after nearly two years of elevated filings. Weekly totals still sit well above the pre-crisis norm of roughly 200,000. There's a good chance the country never see readings that low again, Katheryn Anne Edwards, an economist at the RAND Corporation, told Insider in August. Boosted UI benefits could've permanently raised awareness of the program. If more Americans take advantage of the safety net, claims could stay put at historically high levels, she said.


Elsewhere in the labor market

The readings suggest the labor market recovery picked up speed in early October. Data out last week showed the hiring recovery shifting into a lower gear as the Delta wave curbed job creation. The country added just 194,000 nonfarm payrolls in September, badly missing the median estimate for 500,000 new jobs. It also marked a slowdown from the already dismal hiring pace seen in August.

Still, the unemployment rate dropped to 4.8% and the average hourly wage rose more than expected. The payrolls miss was also influenced by the report's survey period. The report stopped collecting data in the middle of September, the same time that daily case counts peaked in the US. Cases have steadily declined since, and it's likely hiring fared better as the virus situation improved.

In other labor-market news, job openings fell to 10.4 million in August as hiring started to decelerate. That missed the median estimate of 10.9 million and marked a decline from the July reading of 11.1 million openings.

To be sure, 10.4 million is still a massive amount of openings. The US hadn't seen openings rise above 10 million since the pandemic. And openings continue to outpace available workers. There are about 0.8 workers for each listing, suggesting jobless Americans still have plenty of options for finding new work.

Quits rose to another record high of 4.3 million in August. While such high quit rates initially seem like an obstacle for the recovery, the data points to a more promising trend. Elevated quits signal Americans are confident in their ability to find new and better jobs. That shakeup in the labor market can lead to higher pay, stronger productivity, and a better match between people's skills and their work.