Latest weekly jobless claims fall to 712,000, paving way for spring hiring bounce-back

The number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time totaled 712,000 last week, according to data released Thursday by the Department of Labor. Economists had predicted 725,000 claims for the week ending March 6.

With nationwide vaccinations now underway, new claims for jobless benefits will likely continue to decline as businesses reopen, especially restaurants and bars.

The latest data signifies more green shoots for the economy as a whole. Last month’s jobs report showed that 70 percent of the jobs added in February — 355,000 positions — were in the leisure and hospitality sector, which has been decimated by the coronavirus as eateries and hotels were forced to close or operate at reduced capacity to contain the spread of the virus.

“Coronavirus started this mess — and continues to cause massive economic damage on a daily basis.”

The lifting of mask mandates and other public health measures in states such as Texas, Mississippi and Iowa also means that hiring is likely to see an uptick, especially with warmer weather on the way.

“We are still down 9.5 million jobs from a year ago: 7.1 million of these are in the larger service sector; about a million are in the goods-producing sector. The remainder were in the public sector,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, in a recent note. “Any improvement in jobs is welcome news.”

On Wednesday, the House gave final passage to a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package that will deliver $1,400 stimulus checks to millions of Americans, extend enhanced unemployment benefits and boost funding to ramp up vaccine distribution and reopen schools.

Passage of the coronavirus relief bill will benefit the economy, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle in an interview this week, adding that she hoped the country would be “back to full employment” next year. Yellen and other officials have continued to stress the importance of vaccination.

Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart and head of the Business Roundtable, said in a statement on Wednesday released by the influential group: “Nothing can erase how tough the last year was, but eradicating the pandemic and strengthening the U.S. economic recovery can help us turn the page. For that to happen, it’s important that as many people as possible get vaccinated when eligible and continue safety practices.”

The economy still has far to go: At the current pace, the U.S. would need at least two years to return to pre-pandemic employment levels.

“Total initial claims are still 5.8 times higher than during the pre-Covid period, which is staggering given that we are now a full year into this crisis,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, Indeed Hiring Lab economist. “Unfortunately, long-term joblessness continues to be the reality for millions. Programs available to claimants after regular benefits have been exhausted are at their highest yet.”

“To fully heal the labor market, the public health situation must be under control. Coronavirus started this mess — and continues to cause massive economic damage on a daily basis,” Konkel said.

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