The number of Americans filing new unemployment benefits increased modestly last week, as a result of tighter labor market conditions.
Initial claims for unemployment benefits went up 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 206,000 for the week ending December 11, the Labor Department said on Thursday. In the past week, claims dropped to 188,000.
The Associated Press polled 200,000 applications for the latest week. In early April of 2020, claims fell from a record high of 6.149 million.
Applications typically increase around the holiday season as companies temporarily close but an acute shortage of workers has disrupted that seasonal pattern, leading to large declines in the seasonally adjusted claims numbers in recent weeks.
The labor market is improving as a result of the year-end volatility in claims. The Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that it would end its March pandemic-era bond purchases and give the way for three quarter-percentage-point interest rate increases by the end of 2022. The economy was making progress towards maximum employment, according to Fed Chair Jerome Powell. There were record 11.0 million job openings at the end of October. The unemployment rate fell to a 21 month low of 4.2% in November. There are signs that the labor market crunch is beginning to be lessened.
The share of the population actively looking for paid work increased two percentage points to 29.1% in November from the previous month, according to Hiring Lab's job search survey on Wednesday.
Since the survey began in June, there has been a rise among the unemployed to the highest level since. Some people may not look for work due to rising COVID 19 infections and the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Millions of unemployed Americans remained at home even as federal government-funded unemployment benefits ended in early September and schools were reopened for in-person learning. The workforce is 2.4 million less than the pre-pandemic level.