America’s Jobless Claims Hit 52-Year Low: Here’s Why

by Josh Lanier

Only 184,000 people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the lowest number of first-time applicants since 1969. It’s another indicator that the economy is beginning to recover following last year’s pandemic plunge. But economists warn there are hurdles ahead.

Labor Department data released Thursday showed that applications for unemployment benefits continue to fall. In all, about 2 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits at the end of November. That’s almost a third of the 5.9 million Americans who received a check at the same time last year.

Economists say they’ll have a fuller picture of the economy’s stability after the holiday season, but this does seem to show an economy on the mend. The country shed more than 22 million jobs as the pandemic hammered businesses last year. Though massive government stimulus programs and the COVID-19 vaccine helped stave off financial disaster, reports said. The country gained 18.5 million jobs since April 2020, though that’s still more than 3 million jobs shy of pre-COVID figures.

The nation’s unemployment numbers haven’t been this positive since Sept. 6, 1969, when 182,000 people applied for benefits. The four-week moving average, which adjusts for volatility, fell below 219,000. That’s the lowest since the pandemic hit.

“It is the fastest movement of people from relying on government support to earning a weekly paycheck in history,” President Joe Biden said of the 4.2 percent unemployment rate.

Employees Score Big As Unemployment Numbers Fall

This is good news for those who already have a job, too. In October, companies reported a record number of open positions, which coincided with millions of people who quit their jobs. This has made employers reluctant to lay off workers.

Seasoned workers have greater leverage as companies are desperate to retain employees. Some businesses now offer bonuses and pay raises to keep workers happy, Fox News said.

“Weekly jobless claims falling to the lowest level since 1969 is powerful evidence of how desperately employers need to keep workers who are quitting at near-record rates,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union. “While the latest data should be taken with a grain of salt given seasonal adjustments, we may be entering a stretch when lower-than-average layoffs continue until the ‘great resignation’ fades.”

The pandemic reshaped how Americans view work, and employers are doing all they can to meet those new expectations. Many companies now offer remote work opportunities and loyalty programs to entice workers to join.

“People are rethinking their work, and they are sitting on an unprecedented amount of savings — people feel very comfortable that they can find a new job, and that’s what we think of when we think of a strong labor market,” said Liz Wilke, chief economist at Gusto.

Companies that can’t or won’t keep these new demands have to look elsewhere to find employees.

“Teens have turned into a very strategic substitute for employers,” Wilke said. “They tend to have much lower expectations for wages, since they are fresh to the job market, and they are very, very flexible — they can work nights, they can work weekends.”