Unemployment Remains At Lowest Point Since 1960s

Even though more prominent businesses have announced layoffs this year, the number of people losing their jobs has remained historically low. Paradoxically, more Americans claimed unemployment benefits last week than the week prior.

The Labor Department announced on Thursday that 215,000 people applied for unemployment benefits in the week ending February 24, an increase of 13,000 from the previous week. A thousand were added to last week’s figure, bringing it to 202,000.

With an increase of 45,000 from the prior week, 1.9 million Americans were collecting unemployment benefits as of the end of the week on February 17—the highest amount since November.

One common way to measure the amount of layoffs in the United States is to look at the weekly jobless claims. Since the pandemic erasure of millions of jobs in the spring of 2020, they have stayed at historically low levels.

Less volatile than weekly claims, the four-week average dropped 3,000 to 212,500.

After the economy surged back from the COVID-19 recession in 2020, inflation hit four-decade highs. In an effort to bring it down, the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark borrowing rate eleven times starting in March 2022. To combat what it sees as rising inflation, the Federal Reserve sought to ease restrictions on the job market and slow wage increases.

Economists widely believed that rapid rate hikes could plunge the nation into recession; nevertheless, this has not materialized. Thanks to robust consumer spending, the economy has outperformed expectations, and the number of available jobs has stayed high.

In January of 2024, U.S. firms added 353,000 jobs, the latest indication that the economy is continuing to weather the highest interest rates in two decades. This employment boom marked the beginning of a remarkable expansion in hiring activity.

For the first time since the 1960s, the unemployment rate has been below 4% for 24 consecutive months, now at 3.7%.

The U.S. Department of Labor will release its February jobs report a week from this coming Friday.

Recent months have seen a spike in layoffs, primarily in the media and technology industries, though overall layoffs have remained low.