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Weekly jobless claims hit new pandemic low of 547,000

Initial jobless claims for the week ending April 17 fell to a seasonally adjusted 547,000, a 39,000 drop from the previous week and the lowest level since pandemic lockdowns began last March.

The continued drop in weekly claims is a sign of an improving labor market but also indicates how tough conditions remain.

The weekly figure is over double the pre-pandemic level.

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"Today’s Labor Department report underscores the significant distance remaining for the labor market to fully recover," said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation.

"While new layoffs have slowed considerably, they are still nowhere near the level associated with a stable labor market."

An emergency pandemic unemployment program for the self-employed and gig economy workers saw an uptick in filings, while the most recent estimate for overall continued claims rose by nearly half a million to 17.4 million. That data, however, lags by two weeks.

Stettner said that the situation in the labor market remained a shortage of jobs, rather than an unwillingness to work.

"The problem isn’t that unemployed workers are not accepting jobs, but rather that the number of jobless people far outpaces the number of suitable job openings," he said.

The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill signed into law last month provided $300 in extra weekly unemployment benefits through September, a benefit that critics say creates warped incentives by making unemployment more lucrative than work for some beneficiaries.

Updated at 8:56 a.m.