US federal unemployment insurance applications fell to a new pandemic low last week as more Americans are vaccinated and returned to work. Initial claims in regular government programs fell by 13,000 to 553,000 in the week ending April 24, according to Labor Department data on Thursday. The median estimate in a Bloomberg poll of economists was 540,000 claims. The previous week’s grand total has been revised to 566,000.
This month’s new applications are well below the millions of weekly applications filed a year ago, but still more than double the roughly 200,000 weekly applications filed in the months leading up to the pandemic.
Fewer workers are laid off as recruitment increases. States are lifting restrictions on gatherings at restaurants, baseball stadiums, and tourist sites, and Americans, who are increasingly being vaccinated against Covid-19, are more willing to spend time and money outside their homes. Consumer spending is the main driver of the US economy.
The decline in unemployment benefits claims is the latest sign that the labor market is steadily returning to its pre-pandemic strength. As more companies and states reopen in the coming months, the hiring process is expected to continue to accelerate. Damage data was volatile during the pandemic due to backlogs, fraud and new programs.
Ongoing entitlements to ongoing government benefits rose for the first time this year to 3.66 million for the week ending April 17. Pandemic unemployment assistance claims for self-employed and gig workers reached 121,749 last week, the lowest since the program was launched last year.
In a separate report on Thursday, U.S. gross domestic product growth accelerated to an annual rate of 6.4% in the first quarter, after growing 4.3% in the past three months, according to the Department of Commerce.