New weekly claims for jobless aid plunged to the lowest level in more than 50 years last week, according to data released Wednesday by the Labor Department.
In the week ending Nov. 20, there were 199,000 initial applications for unemployment insurance, according to the seasonally adjusted figures, a decline of 71,000 from the previous week. Claims fell to the lowest level since November 1969 and are now well below the pre-pandemic trough of 225,000 applications received the week of March 14, 2020.
The steep drop in unemployment applications comes after several strong months of job growth and rising consumer spending heading into the holiday shopping season. While high inflation has stressed many household budgets, U.S. job growth, economic production, stock values and corporate profits have all steamed ahead.
“Getting new claims below the 200,000 level for the first time since the pandemic began is truly significant, portraying further improvement,” said Mark Hamrick, chief economic analyst at Bankrate.com.
“The strains associated with higher prices, shortages of supplies and available job candidates are weighed against low levels of layoffs, wage gains and a falling unemployment rate,” he continued. “Growth will likely be above par for the foreseeable future, but within the context of historically high inflation which should relax its grip on the economy to some degree in the year ahead.”
The U.S. added 531,000 jobs in October and job growth in the previous months was revised substantially higher after a string of what first appeared to be meager gains. While businesses have struggled to hire enough workers to meet surging consumer demand, the decline in jobless claims appears to be a sign of an improving labor market.
"Layoffs are hitting new lows amid ongoing labor shortages as employers look to hold onto hard-to-find workers," said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, in a Wednesday thread on Twitter.
For the 1st time during the pandemic, initial UI claims have dipped below pre-crisis levels, falling to 199,000 (vs the Feb 2020 avg: 211,700).— Daniel Zhao (@DanielBZhao) November 24, 2021
Layoffs are hitting new lows amid ongoing labor shortages as employers look to hold onto hard-to-find workers.#joblessclaims 1/ pic.twitter.com/SQjR1KZQzM
Even so, Zhao said the sharp decline below pre-pandemic levels may have been due to a lower than expected seasonal impact on hiring.
"As you can see from the above chart, this is in part due to the seasonal adjustment expecting a much larger jump in non-seasonally adjusted claims, so this dip below pre-crisis levels may be short-lived," he explained.
Updated at 9:46 a.m.