WASHINGTON: The number of Americans filing new applications for unemployment benefits decreased last week, suggesting that the labor market was stabilizing as authorities started to loosen pandemic-related restrictions on businesses.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits totaled a seasonally adjusted 779,000 for the week ended Jan. 30, compared to 812,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 830,000 applications in the latest week.
Jobless claims remain above their 665,000 peak from during the 2007-09 Great Recession, but well below a record 6.867 million in last March when the pandemic hit the United States' shores.
Part of the elevation in claims reflects people re-applying for benefits after the government in late December renewed a US$300 unemployment supplement until March 14 as part of a package worth nearly US$900 billion in additional pandemic relief.
Though January was the worst month since the onset of the pandemic, the decline in economic activity leveled off in the second half of the month amid signs of a peak in the recent coronavirus wave.
Data from Homebase, a payroll scheduling and tracking company, showed its measure of employees at work flattened out over the last two weeks of January, pausing the decline observed from December into January.
Other data on Thursday from global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas showed planned job cuts announced by U.S.-based employers rose only 3.3per cent to 79,552 in January.
Last week's claims data has no bearing on Friday's closely watched employment report for January as it falls outside the survey period, which was in the middle of the month. Still, the signs of stability in other labor market measures support expectations that hiring rebounded in January after the economy shed jobs in December for the first time in eight months.
According to a Reuters poll of economists payrolls likely increased by 50,000 jobs in January after declining by 140,000 in December.
Hopes that the economy created jobs last month were boosted by reports on Wednesday showing rebounds in private payrolls and services industry employment in January. A survey this week also showed manufacturers hired more workers in January.
But some economists are bracing for a second straight month of job losses in January. The Conference Board's survey last week showed consumers' perceptions of labor market conditions deteriorated further in January.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)