Applications for unemployment insurance eased up last week for the eighth straight week as the pace of corporate layoffs related to the pandemic-induced economic shutdown continued to drop.
The Labor Department said 2.123 million Americans filed jobless claims for the week ended May 23, down slightly from 2.438 million claims for the week earlier, as parts of the U.S. economy slowly began to reopen after more than two months of being shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Economists polled by FactSet had been expecting 2 million claims up to last Saturday.
The number of unemployed Americans since the coronavirus pandemic washed onto U.S. shores in mid-March now stands above 40 million, a number never before seen in history, including during the Great Depression.
Continuing claims, a number that tallies not just people filing for unemployment benefits but staying on them, came in at 21.052 million for the week ended May 16, down from a record 25.073 million. The continuing claims numbers are reported with a one-week lag, but are considered a better gauge of the labor market.
Weekly claims have been gradually declining since hitting a record 6.867 million in the week ended March 28, as more states lift stay-at-home orders and as businesses slowly reopen - even as the pandemic has claimed more than 100,000 lives.
Even so, the number of workers seeking assistance has now surpassed the 40-million mark, and remains about 10 times higher than before coronavirus-related lockdowns began in March, a reason why economists and market-watchers are now looking more closely at continuing claims.
Many economists see the pace of layoffs slowing, with all states taking steps to let businesses reopen and citizens to move more freely. But they also expect a labor-market recovery to take many months, if not years, to replace the tens of millions of jobs lost since February.
For the week ended May 9, 33 states reported 7,793,066 individuals claiming Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits, and 22 states reported 222,300 individuals claiming Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits.
The highest insured unemployment rates in the week ending May 9 were in Washington (31.2), Nevada (26.7), Florida (25.0), Hawaii (23.4), Michigan (23.1), California (20.6), New York (19.9), Rhode Island (18.8), Vermont (18.2), Connecticut (18.0), and Georgia (18.0).
The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending May 16 were in California (+31,764), Washington (+29,288), New York (+24,543), Florida (+2,322), and Michigan (+1,549), while the largest decreases were in Georgia (-65,041), New Jersey (-27,324), Kentucky (-22,051), Louisiana (-11,580), and Pennsylvania (-11,172).