US Jobless Benefit Claims Drop for 6th Straight Week

WASHINGTON – New claims for jobless benefits in the United States continued to fall last week, dropping for the sixth straight week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as the world’s biggest economy continues its marked recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

A total of 376,000 out-of-work employees filed for unemployment compensation, down 9,000 from the revised figure of the week before, the agency said. The figure was the lowest total since mid-March 2020 when the pandemic first swept into the country and marked the second straight week the weekly total had dropped below 400,000 in more than a year.

More than 53% of U.S. adults have now been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, boosting the economic recovery, although the pace of inoculations has dropped markedly from its peak several weeks ago. Officials in many states are now offering a variety of incentives to entice the unvaccinated to get inoculated, including entry into lucrative lotteries.

The continuing drop in the number of jobless benefit claims is linked to more hiring. The U.S. added 559,000 jobs in May, more than twice the 266,000 in April. Still, about 9.3 million people remain unemployed in the U.S., according to the government.

With the steady recovery, many employers are reporting a shortage of workers, particularly for low-wage jobs such as restaurant servers and retail clerks.

Many businesses complain they are unable to find enough applicants for the job openings. The jobless rate fell to 5.8% in May, still higher than the 3.5% rate in March of last year before the pandemic was declared.

The federal government approved sending $300-a-week supplemental unemployment benefits to jobless workers through early September on top of less generous state-by-state payments.

But at least 25 of the 50 states, all led by Republican governors, have started ending participation in the federal payments program, contending that the stipends let workers make more money than they would by returning to work and thus are hurting the recovery by not filling available job openings.

Some economists say, however, other factors prevent people from returning to work, such as lack of childcare or fear of contracting the coronavirus.

The U.S. government has determined that it has no authority to force the states to continue to make the payments into September. President Joe Biden recently reaffirmed rules for accepting the extra federal aid so unemployed workers could not game the system.

“We’re going to make it clear that anyone collecting unemployment who is offered a suitable job must take the job or lose their unemployment benefits,” Biden said. “That’s the law.”

The economic picture in the U.S. has been boosted as money from Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package filters through the economy. The measure has likely boosted consumer spending, as millions of Americans, all but the highest wage earners, are now receiving $1,400 stimulus checks from the government or have already been sent the extra cash.

With more money in their wallets and more people vaccinated, Americans are venturing back to some sense of normalcy, going out to restaurants and spending money on items they had not purchased for a year.

But consumers are encountering higher retail prices, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting Thursday that prices jumped 0.6% in May, up 5% over the last year.

Biden is proposing an additional $4 trillion in government spending on infrastructure repairs and assistance for children and families, but the assistance has been met with stiff resistance from Republicans. The fate of the proposals in the politically divided Congress remains uncertain and talks ended this week between Biden and a group of opposition Republicans. Further talks are underway between the White House and a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats.

Numerous Republican lawmakers have voiced opposition to the size of the Democratic president’s spending plans and his proposals to pay for them with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

Absent an agreement with Republicans, Democratic congressional leaders say they could attempt to push through Biden’s proposals solely with Democratic votes without any Republican support, as occurred with passage of the coronavirus relief package.

Source: Voice of America