Jobless claims fall to lowest number in pandemic era

Techmetals in East Dayton plans to add about 25 workers in the next three years. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Techmetals in East Dayton plans to add about 25 workers in the next three years. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The economy is heating up, with the number of national layoffs falling to the lowest level during the pandemic, new U.S. Department of Labor numbers showed Thursday.

In the week ending March 20, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims for unemployment benefits was 684,000, a decrease of 97,000 from the previous week’s revised level, the federal government said.

Statewide, Ohioans filed 69,368 initial jobless claims last week, according to statistics from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Of that number, about 7,400 have been flagged for potential fraud, the state said.

The total number of initial or first-time jobless claims filed in Ohio over the last 53 weeks (3,098,318) was more than the combined total of those filed over six years, from 2013 to 2019.

Ohioans filed 330,446 continued jobless claims last week, which was 445,856 fewer than (or about 42% of) the peak last year, the state said.

The numbers were released the day after the state said it has begun issuing the supplemental weekly $300 payments made possible by the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, for claimants in the traditional unemployment program.

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Additional weeks of extended benefits, from 24 to 53, also made possible by the act are now available to claim.

“The most recent federal legislation provided straightforward extensions of these programs, which makes them quicker to implement,” said ODJFS Interim Director Matt Damschroder. “The transition for claimants should be seamless.”

“There are fewer people that are losing their jobs,” Ben Ayers, senior economist at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., told the Wall Street Journal, referring to national numbers. “That’s a great sign that things are starting to pick up again for the economy.”

In an email to the Dayton Daily News, Nationwide economist Scott Murray said the need for pandemic benefits nevertheless remains high.

“The recent improvement in claims numbers is not yet shown in the lagged pandemic aid reports,” Murray said. “Still, the need remains high, showing the damage done to the labor market over the last year.”

On a brighter note, more air bookings and better transportation statistics are showing rising interest in travel, Murray also said. However, he warned: “Full healing will take years.”

While the recovery is progressing more quickly than expected, some sectors hit hardest by the virus remain weak, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said in remarks before Congress earlier this week.

“We welcome this progress, but will not lose sight of the millions of Americans who are still hurting, including lower-wage workers in the services sector, African Americans, Hispanics, and other minority groups that have been especially hard hit,” Powell said in prepared remarks during a House Financial Service Committee hearing Tuesday.

U.S. gross domestic product rose at a 4.3% annualized rate in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department’s third estimate showed Thursday. Corporate profits fell 1.4% in the final three months of the year.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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