U.S. jobless claims fall to lowest level since COVID shutdown

Americans in late July filed new unemployment claims in the smallest number since March.

The U.S. Department of Labor in Washington D.C. on August 3, 2020. (Marcus DiPaola/Zenger)

WASHINGTON — Initial jobless claims fell in the U.S. at the end of last month to their lowest level since before the COVID-19 pandemic tanked the economy.

First-time unemployment filings fell by a seasonally adjusted 249,000 to 1.2 million for the week ending Aug. 1, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday. It was the lowest weekly total since March, signaling a recovering economy even though numbers remain at historically high levels.

The U.S. added 1.8 million jobs in July, pushing the unemployment rate down to 10.2 percent from 11.1 percent in June, the Labor department said Friday. The Trump economy added 4.8 million jobs in June.

“June’s pace was great and would have brought us back to February unemployment levels in just a couple of months, but July’s pace is considerably slower,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter.

“We need to add about 2.5 million jobs a month to recover all the jobs lost due to COVID by the end of year. It doesn’t seem like that is even remotely possible given that Covid cases are still high,” she said.

Pollack attributed the decrease in jobless claims to the expiration of the extra $600 weekly federal unemployment payments, but she said the addition of jobs in July was “better than expected.”

ZipRecruiter is seeing a weekly increase in job postings, she said.

“Jobs for e-commerce specialists, online merchants, web designers,” Pollak said. “Of course there is very robust hiring for warehouse workers and delivery drivers.”

The largest gains are coming from hard-hit industries—retail and leisure and hospitality—rehiring workers, according to Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at Glassdoor.

The latest numbers are encouraging, said Lydia Boussour, a senior economist at Oxford Economics, but also show that momentum is slowing.

“Our baseline remains that labor market conditions continue to gradually improve albeit at a slower pace,” Boussour said. “While jobs will continue to be recouped as the economy recovers, we still expect the employment shortfall to persist well into 2022 as the scarring effects of the coronavirus recession on the labor market leads to a shallower recovery.”

(Edited by Allison Elyse Gualtieri and David Martosko)