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Layoff totals improve to pandemic-era low as economy improves

The last time layoff totals were this low, the pandemic hadn't even started in earnest. The numbers are starting to look ... normal.


After months of hit-or-miss progress on weekly unemployment claims in the early part of the year, CNBC reported this morning on the newest data from the Labor Department, which offers the best news on layoffs we've seen in quite a while.

Initial jobless claims fell below 300,000 for the first time since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Labor Department said Thursday. In another sign that the jobs market is getting closer to its old self, first-time claims for unemployment insurance totaled 293,000.

Circling back to our recent coverage, it was in March 2020 when jobless claims first spiked in response to the Covid-19 crisis, climbing to over 3 million. That weekly total soon after reached nearly 7 million as the economy cratered. For 55 consecutive weeks, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits was worse than at any time during the Great Recession.

All of that appears to be behind us. Looking at today's report, we haven't seen data this good since before the pandemic began in earnest.

Periodically over the course of the crisis, there have been understated threshold-based celebrations. When unemployment claims finally dipped below 1 million last August, it was a step in the right direction. When they fell below 800,000 in February, it offered similar evidence of slow, gradual progress. Fortunately, the pattern continued: Totals fell below 700,000 in March, below 600,000 in April, below 500,000 in early May, and below 400,000 in late May.

And now, finally, there's a report on jobless claims that's below 300,000.

Indeed, what we're approaching is something resembling normalcy. In the early months of 2020, the U.S. average on unemployment claims was roughly 211,000 — and while we haven't quite reached that total, we're at least within shouting distance for the first time in a long while.

Here's a chart I made showing initial unemployment claims from the last several decades, which helps drive home the importance of today's good news.