The numbers: The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits in early November slid to another low for the pandemic era, as businesses frantically sought to beef up staff and avoid layoffs during the biggest labor shortage in decades.

New filings for jobless benefit dropped by 4,000 to 267,000 in the seven days ended Nov. 30, the government said Wednesday. The report was released a day earlier than normal because of the Veterans Day holiday.

Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had estimated new claims would total a seasonally adjusted 265,000.

Last month new unemployment filings dropped below the key 300,000 level for the first time since the start of the viral outbreak in March 2020. If new claims keep falling as expected, they could soon return to precrisis levels in the low 200,000s.

Read: ‘My business faces a dire shortage of workers,’ owner tells Congress

Big picture: The U.S. economy is accelerating again and businesses have more than 10 million jobs to fill, but they can’t find enough workers owing to one of the biggest labor shortages in decades.

Read: U.S. adds 531,000 new jobs in October as economy recovers

The speed of the recovery will depend on how quickly the millions of people missing from the labor force return to work. Without more labor, companies can’t produce enough goods and services to meet demand.

Read: Top Fed officials signal interest-rate increases in 2022 are on the table

Key details: New jobless claims fell the most last week in California, Washington, D.C., Louisiana and Pennsylvania.

New unemployment filings rose the most in Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, states with a large number of auto workers. Automakers have had to temporarily shut down some assembly lines because of parts shortages. Workers can be eligible for benefits when that happens.

Jobless claims were little changed in most other states.

The number of people already collecting state jobless benefits, meanwhile, rose by 59,000 to 2.16 million. It’s the first increase in six weeks, but the small rise still leaves so-called continuing claims near a pandemic low.

Altogether, 2.57 million people were reportedly receiving jobless benefits through state or federal programs as of Oct 23. Just under 2 million were collecting benefits before the pandemic.

What they are saying? Demand for labor is very strong and workers are in short supply, so layoffs are very low right now,” said chief economist Gus Faucher of PNC Financial Services. “The biggest problem for the labor market in late 2021 is too few workers.” 

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
-0.14%

and S&P 500
SPX,
-0.10%

fell in Wednesday trades. Stock prices have been hitting record highs.

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