Weekly Unemployment Claims Show Recovery Remains Rocky

The economy continues to slowly rebound from the worst of the pandemic, but claims for unemployment benefits remain high by historical standards, a sign of how long it will take for the job market to recover fully.

Initial jobless claims rose last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, after a big drop in the previous week.

A total of 748,000 workers filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits in the week that ended Feb. 27, 32,000 higher than the week before. In addition, 437,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits, a rise of 9,000.

Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 745,000, an increase of 9,000.

Claims are lower than they were when coronavirus cases spiked early last year. With the virus easing since then in many places, some restrictions on business activity have been rolled back. That has helped the job market somewhat.

The increase in claims last week included a big jump in Ohio and Texas, as the latter recovered from severe winter storms last month.

“We knew there was some backlog in Texas and claims would likely go back up,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at the forecasting firm Oxford Economics. “Despite expectations for record-breaking growth in 2021, the job market is still quite fragile.”

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said Tuesday that the state was lifting all restrictions on business and eliminating its mask requirement, moves that drew criticism from President Biden. Elsewhere, officials have been more cautious — in Chicago, parks and playgrounds reopened, while in Massachusetts, capacity restrictions on restaurants have been lifted.

“The labor market is continuing to gradually improve,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco. “Job growth will accelerate, perhaps as soon as the second quarter, with decent gains in leisure and hospitality and travel.”

Even so, the number of new filers remains extremely high by historical standards, a sign of just how entrenched the pandemic remains one year after it first struck.

“We are still dealing with millions of unemployed Americans,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group. “It’s going to take a long time to get back to normal, but job growth will be stronger as we head into the spring.”

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