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News / Business

U.S. applications for jobless benefits come back down after last week’s 9-month high

By MATT OTT, AP Business Writer
Published: May 16, 2024, 8:18am

Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week as layoffs remain at historically low levels even as other signs that the labor market is cooling have surfaced.

Jobless claims for the week ending May 11 fell by 10,000 to 222,000, down from 232,000 the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Last week’s applications were the most since the final week of August 2023, though it’s still a relatively low number of layoffs.

The four-week average of claims, which evens out some of the week-to-week fluctuations, rose by 2,500 to 217,750.

Weekly unemployment claims are considered a proxy for the number of U.S. layoffs in a given week and a sign of where the job market is headed. They have remained at historically low levels since millions of jobs were lost when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in the spring of 2020.

In April, U.S. employers added just 175,000 jobs, the fewest in six months and a sign that the labor market may be finally cooling off. The unemployment rate inched back up to 3.9% from 3.8% and has now remained below 4% for 27 straight months, the longest such streak since the 1960s.

The government also recently reported 8.5 million job openings in March, the lowest number of vacancies in three years.

Moderation in the pace of hiring, along with a slowdown in wage growth, could give the Fed the data its been seeking in order to finally issue a cut to interest rates. A cooler reading on consumer inflation in April could also play into the Fed’s next rate decsion.

The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark borrowing rate 11 times beginning in March of 2022 in a bid to stifle the four-decade high inflation that took hold after the economy rebounded from the COVID-19 recession of 2020. The Fed’s intention was to loosen the labor market and cool wage growth, which can fuel inflation.

Many economists thought there was a chance the rapid rate hikes could cause a recession, but jobs remain plentiful and the economy still broadly healthy thanks to strong consumer spending.

Though layoffs remain at low levels, companies have been announcing more job cuts recently, mostly across technology and media. Google parent company Alphabet, Apple and eBay have all recently announced layoffs.

Outside of tech and media, Walmart, Peloton, Stellantis, Nike and Tesla have recently announced job cuts.

In total, 1.79 million Americans were collecting jobless benefits during the week that ended May 4. That’s up 13,000 from the previous week.

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