Fewer Americans apply for jobless aid as hiring rebounds

The number of Americans filing for jobless aid is falling again as the job market continues to heal. 

Some 385,000 people filed for first-time unemployment benefits in the week ended July 31, the Labor Department said Thursday. The number, adjusted for seasonal variation, is 14,000 below the prior week’s level. There were another 94,000 claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the federal program for freelancers and gig workers.

Unemployment claims, a proxy for layoffs, have fallen steadily this year since peaking at 900,000 a week in January. But they remain high by historic levels. Before the pandemic slammed the U.S. in March of 2020, an average of roughly 220,000 claims were filed each week.

The job market has rebounded strongly this summer as increasing vaccination rates have made more Americans comfortable venturing out to eat in restaurants, shop and attend live events. Employers posted a record 9.2 million job openings in May, with many business owners complaining they could not find workers for open jobs.

Workers take advantage of hiring incentives 08:22

“Overall, we expect the labor market to improve and job growth to pick up although new variants of the virus as well as near term constraints on labor supply are downside risks,” Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist with High Frequency Economics, said in a research note.

Half of states, concerned that enhanced jobless benefits were keeping some workers on the sidelines and making it harder for reopening businesses to hire, have curtailed supplemental unemployment aid early. In the rest of the country, the souped-up benefits are scheduled to expire by September 4, which would throw 7.5 million people off the rolls, according to a report from the Century Foundation.

As of mid-July, about 13 million people were receiving some form of federal or state unemployment aid.