Initial jobless claims last week were slightly higher than expected but still reflected a labor market where employers hate firing workers.
First-time claims for benefits in the week ending April 16 totaled 184,000 for the week, down 2,000 from the previous week but ahead of the Dow Jones estimate of 182,000, The Ministry of Labor said Thursday.
The numbers show that the employment picture in the United States has historically remained narrow, with jobs outnumbering the number of available workers by about 5 million.
Continuing claims, which came a week behind the headline figure, fell by 58,000 to 1.417 million, the lowest level since February 21, 1970.
A separate economic report Thursday showed that manufacturing expanded in the Philadelphia region in April, but at a slower rate than expected.
The Philadelphia Fed Monthly Manufacturing Index It recorded a reading of 17.6, representing the difference between companies seeing expansion versus contraction. That was about 10 points down from March and below the Dow Jones estimate of 21.9.
Measures of new orders, shipments, bulk orders, delivery times and the average employee workweek showed a decrease from March. However, prices paid and prices received increased, reflecting continued inflationary pressures, while the number of employees increased as well.
On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve’s “Beige Book” summary of economic conditions across the United States noted companies’ difficulty finding workers.
“Demand for workers continued to be strong in most regions and sectors of industry. But hiring was delayed due to the general shortage of available workers, although many regions reported signs of modest improvement in worker availability,” the report said. “Many companies reported significant turnover as workers left for higher wages and more flexible work schedules.”
Federal Reserve officials are responding to rising inflation with an expected series of interest rate increases that they hope will not derail the two-year economic recovery. Markets expect the Fed’s overnight borrowing rate to rise to about 2.5% this year from nearly zero where it stood at the start of 2022.
Unemployment claims numbers reflect continued progress in employment. The total of those receiving benefits has fallen to 1.62 million, as of data through April 2. A year ago, that total was 17.4 million, a number that has been trimmed as the government clamped down on expanded unemployment benefits and as hiring accelerated after the launch of Covid vaccines and a sharp drop in virus cases.
However, the job market has not fully caught up to what it was before the pandemic.
Although the unemployment rate has fallen to 3.6%, there are 408,000 fewer Americans employed than in February 2020, just before the pandemic. The labor market is also 174,000 smaller and the labor force participation rate is a full percentage point lower than the pre-Covid level.
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