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A key unemployment measure hasn’t been this low in 52 years

<i>Joe Raedle/Getty Images</i><br/>A key unemployment measure hasn't been this low in 52 years. A Now Hiring sign hangs in front of a Winn-Dixie grocery store on December 03 in Miami
Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A key unemployment measure hasn't been this low in 52 years. A Now Hiring sign hangs in front of a Winn-Dixie grocery store on December 03 in Miami

By Anneken Tappe, CNN Business

America’s latest report on unemployment benefits is proof that the US jobs recovery is still in full-swing.

The average number of weekly jobless benefits claims over the past four weeks fell to 199,250. That’s the lowest four-week moving average since October 1969, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Last week alone, claims stood at 198,000, adjusted for seasonal swings. That was slightly less than economists had predicted but above the pandemic-era low.

The number of continued claims, counting workers who have applied for benefits for at least two consecutive weeks, stood at 1.7 million in the week ended December 18, the lowest level since March 2020.

All these data points are undeniably signs of strength in the labor market, even though the recent claims plunge might overstate the actual improvements in the job market. The winter holidays add some volatility to the numbers, according to PNC chief economist Gus Faucher.

Even accounting for this volatility, the bottom line is this: America is back to work.

“Demand for labor is very strong and workers are in short supply, so businesses are not laying off employees,” Faucher said. “Those workers who do find themselves unemployed can quickly find new jobs.”

Even so, the pandemic isn’t over so there’s always some dark clouds on the horizon. At the moment, that’s the highly infectious Omicron variant.

So far, the spike in Covid cases from Omicron hasn’t shown up in the jobs data — but that doesn’t mean it won’t.

It’s “a substantial downside near-term risk to the outlook for job growth,” Faucher said. “If consumers change their behavior and pull back on their spending, particularly on services, job growth could slow dramatically in early 2022.”

Happy New Year to us.

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