With the pandemic’s end seemingly in sight, the economy is poised for a dynamic revival. But one measure has continued to frustrate the resurgence: the number of weekly applications for unemployment claims, which have remained stubbornly high for months even as businesses reopen and vaccination rates increase.
After new claims hit a pandemic low in mid-March, initial claims for state unemployment benefits have been ticking up as the effects of the pandemic continue to ripple through the economy. Last week, the Labor Department said a total of 741,000 workers had filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits.
The Labor Department will release its latest weekly report on jobless claims on Thursday. If the number of claims falls, it will renew confidence in the labor market’s upturn after the recent bumpiness. But if it increases, it will provide a stark indication of the pandemic’s continuing toll on the work force.
Either way, jobless claims for the next few months could remain much higher than they were before the pandemic as the labor market adjusts to a new normal.
“The job market conditions for job seekers have really improved extremely quickly between January and now,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the job site ZipRecruiter. “But there are still huge barriers to returning to work.”
Concerns about workplace safety persist, especially for workers who are not yet vaccinated. Many children are still attending schools remotely, complicating the full-time work prospects for their caregivers.
But there is hope on the horizon as those barriers begin to fall. President Biden moved up the deadline for states to make all adults eligible for vaccination to April 19, and every state has complied. Students who have been learning remotely will begin to return to the classroom in earnest.
“This was the deepest, swiftest recession ever, but it’s also turning into the fastest recovery,” Ms. Pollak said. “And I don’t think we should lose sight of that just because some of the measures are a little stubborn.”