New U.S. Unemployment Claims at Lowest Number Since 1969, Now Less Than 200K

The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits last week was the lowest since mid-November 1969, dropping by 71,000 to 199,000 claims, the Associated Press reported.

The shift could signal that the U.S. job market is bouncing back from the recession last year when the COVID-19 pandemic slammed the economy and many people lost work.

Though jobless claims reached their lowest levels last week in more than half a century, seasonal adjustments around Thanksgiving accounted greatly for the large reduction, AP reported. Without the adjustments, claims increased by more than 18,000 to almost 259,000.

Unemployment claims and applications reflect layoffs, which became much more common when the pandemic hit. The four-week average of claims decreased by 21,000 to a little over 252,000, the lowest rate since mid-March of last year.

Applications have fallen steadily since they surpassed 900,000 in early January, and they now are even lower than the average level of 220,000 a week from before the pandemic, according to AP. The 2 million Americans who collected traditional unemployment aid in the week that ended November 13 also marked a slight decrease from the previous week.

"Overall, expect continued volatility in the headline figures, but the trend remains very slowly lower," Contingent Macro Advisors wrote in a research note.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Unemployment Claims Drop
The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits plummeted last week to the lowest level in more than half a century, another sign that the U.S. job market is rebounding rapidly from last year’s coronavirus recession. Above, a hiring sign is displayed outside of a retail store in Vernon Hills, Illinois, on November 13, 2021. Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo

Until September 6, the federal government had supplemented state unemployment insurance programs by paying an extra payment of $300 a week and extending benefits to gig workers and to those who were out of work for six months or more. Including the federal programs, the number of Americans receiving some form of jobless aid peaked at more than 33 million in June of 2020.

The job market has staged a remarkable comeback since the spring of 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to close or cut hours and kept many Americans at home as a health precaution. In March and April last year, employers slashed more than 22 million jobs.

But government relief checks, super-low interest rates and the rollout of vaccines combined to give consumers the confidence and financial wherewithal to start spending again. Employers, scrambling to meet an unexpected surge in demand, have made 18 million new hires since April of 2020 and are expected to add another 575,000 this month. Still, the United States remains 4 million short of the jobs it had in February of 2020.

Companies now complain that they can't find workers to fill job openings, a near-record 10.4 million in September. Workers, finding themselves with bargaining clout for the first time in decades, are becoming choosier about jobs; a record 4.4 million quit in September, a sign they have confidence in their ability to find something better.

Mississippi Job Center
Unemployment claims and applications reflect layoffs, which became much more common when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Above, John Poe, a small business owner, speaks to an unseen state worker through an intercom speaker system while his son Hunter waits his turn at this state WIN job center in Canton, Mississippi, on April 29, 2020. Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo