Unemployment Claims Nudge Closer to Pre-pandemic Level

States reported that 293,000 workers filed for new unemployment benefits during the week ending Oct. 9, the lowest level during the pandemic era. New claims are down significantly from earlier this year and are closing in on their 2019 weekly average of just over 200,000.

The total number of workers continuing to claim unemployment benefits fell by 134,000 to 2.5 million, also the lowest level since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. By comparison, continuing claims had averaged 1.6 million throughout 2019.

The number of job openings in the U.S. has continued to outpace the number of unemployed workers and the overall trending decline in jobless claims is evidence that hiring difficulty has been the bigger drag on the labor market in recent months, rather than layoffs and separations. Job openings were at a near-record high of more than 10.4 million in August, while the labor force participation rate is still below its pre-pandemic level.

Meanwhile, U.S. job growth fell to the slowest pace of the year in September, primarily held back by a sharp drop in public-sector employment, mostly teachers.