WASHINGTON, Dec 9, Reuters - The number of Americans filing new unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level in more than 52 years as labor market conditions continued to tighten amid an acute shortage of workers.
Initial claims for unemployment benefits fell 43,000 to 184,000 for the week ended December 4, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The drop to the lowest level since September 1969 was probably exaggerated by difficulties adjusting the data for seasonal fluctuations.
Economists polled by Reuters had predicted 215,000 applications for the latest week. In early April of 2020, claims fell from a record high of 6.149 million.
Applications increase as the weather gets colder, but economists say this seasonal pattern is unlikely to hold because of the tightening labor market.
There were 11 million unfilled jobs at the end of October, leaving employers reluctant to let workers go.
Veronica Clark, an economist at Citigroup in New York, said that jobless claims data will be hard to interpret over the coming weeks due to seasonal patterns.
After a lull in the July-September period, the claims data is consistent with other reports on consumer spending, manufacturing and services industries activity that suggest that the economy was regaining steam in the fourth quarter.
The economic outlook is hampered by the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID 19. There is a chance that a Delta variant will cause a slowdown in hiring and demand for services, based on the experience with the Delta variant, which was responsible for the slowest economic growth pace in more than a year last quarter.
The unemployment rate dropped to a 21 year low of 4.2% in November, while non-farm payrolls increased by 210,000 jobs, the fewest since December.