The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits for the first time fell to a new pandemic low last week, the latest evidence that layoffs are slowing as the economic rebound strengthens.
Figures released Thursday by the Labor Department show that applications for the week ended May 1 fell to 498,000 from a revised 590,000 a week earlier.
While the number of unemployed workers applying for benefits is down sharply from the peak of almost 7 million that was reached when stay-at-home orders were first issued a year ago, it's still more than double the typical pre-crisis level.
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Most economists expect the downward trend to continue in coming months as more Americans are vaccinated and venture out to travel, shop and eat.
Continuing claims, or the number of Americans who are consecutively receiving unemployment aid, fell to 3.96 million, an increase of 37,000 from the previous week. The report shows that roughly 16.16 million Americans were collecting jobless benefits for the week ending April 17, a decline of 404,509 from the previous week.
"A bigger-than-expected decline in new jobless claims is a most pleasant surprise," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. "Not only did the headline number of claims fall to a new pandemic low, but it slipped slightly below the 500,000 level. Still, more than 16 million Americans continued to receive some form of jobless assistance as of the latest count. That’s not normal, not by far."
The decline news comes just one day before the Labor Department's more closely watched jobs report, which is expected to show that payrolls rose by 978,000 and the unemployment rate inched down slightly to 5.8% in April.
There are roughly 8.4 million fewer jobs than there were one year ago before the crisis began.