New claims for jobless benefits fell in the United States last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as many employers hung on to the workers they have and searched for more.
The agency said 238,000 unemployed workers filed for compensation, down 23,000 from the revised figure of the week before. The new total was in line with the claim figures from recent weeks as the U.S. economy, the world’s largest, continues to recover from the havoc inflicted on it by the advance of the coronavirus pandemic that swept into the country nearly two years ago.
Analysts now are awaiting the government’s release Friday of January’s employment picture in the U.S., the number of new jobs created last month and the unemployment rate, which was 3.9% in December.
The U.S. economy added a modest 199,000 new jobs in December, and analysts say January’s figure may not be much different, perhaps even smaller, as the number of new omicron variant coronavirus cases surged early in January and then waned, after the employment data was collected at mid-month.
Many employers are looking for more workers, despite about 6.9 million workers remaining unemployed in the U.S.
At the end of November, there were 10.4 million job openings in the U.S., but the skills of available workers often do not match what employers want, or the job openings are not where the unemployed live. In addition, many of the available jobs are low-wage service positions that the jobless are shunning.
But overall, the U.S. economy is surging, advancing by 5.7% in 2021, the fastest full-year gain since 1984, the Commerce Department reported last week.
The sharp growth in the world’s biggest economy showed its resiliency, even as the U.S. struggled to cope last year with two new coronavirus variants that hobbled some industries, caused supply chain issues for consumer goods that at times left store shelves empty, and led to a 7% year-over-year surge in consumer prices that was the highest in four decades.
But for the year, a record 6.4 million jobs were created, and most of the jobs lost at the outset of the pandemic in early 2020 have been recovered.
Some economic analysts say that even if the January jobs number is weak, it may be a temporary setback because the number of new coronavirus cases has been dropping sharply in the U.S. to under 400,000 new cases a day, about half of what it was just weeks ago.
The country’s robust economy pushed Federal Reserve policymakers last week to announce they could boost their benchmark interest rate as early as March after keeping it near 0% since the coronavirus first swept into the United States in March 2020.
The Fed could increase the rate several more times this year, which could have a broad effect on borrowing costs for consumers and businesses.