Even as layoffs in the United States remain extraordinarily high by historical standards, unemployment claims continue to decline as coronavirus cases and restrictions on activity recede.
New claims for unemployment benefits declined last week for the fourth week in a row, the Labor Department reported Thursday morning.
Last week brought 813,000 new claims for state benefits, compared with 850,000 the previous week. Adjusted for seasonal variations, last week’s figure was 793,000, a decrease of 19,000.
There were 335,000 new claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for part-time workers, the self-employed and others ordinarily ineligible for jobless benefits. That total, which was not seasonally adjusted, was down from 369,000 the week before.
New coronavirus cases have fallen by a third from the level two weeks ago, prompting states like California and New York to relax restrictions on indoor dining and other activities.
“We’re stuck at this very high level of claims, but activity is picking up,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist with ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace. Indeed, job postings at ZipRecruiter stand at 11.3 million, close to the 11.4 million level before the pandemic hit.
The improving pandemic situation has eased the strain on dining establishments, Ms. Pollak added. More generally, however, the leisure and hospitality industry is still under pressure.
Plenty of other signs of weakness remain. On Friday, the Labor Department reported that employers added just 49,000 jobs in January, underscoring the challenges for the nearly 10 million unemployed.
President Biden cited the weak showing to press for approval of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. It would send $1,400 to many Americans, provide aid to states and cities, and extend unemployment benefits that are due to expire for millions in mid-March.
Ms. Pollak said postings by employers at ZipRecruiter in recent days offered hope. “We’ve seen employers smash all of our expectations and show a great deal of exuberance,” she said.