New claims for unemployment benefits fell to 2.98 million last week, data from the Department of Labor showed Thursday.
That brings new unemployment claims, a proxy for layoffs, since the coronavirus pandemic began to claim jobs eight weeks ago to around 36.5 million.
Economists had been expecting 2.7 million for weekly claims. The prior week was initially reported at 3.169 million and was revised up by 7,000 in this week’s report.
Claims hit a record 6.87 million for the week of March 28. Each subsequent week has seen claims decline. The higher than expected number of claims, however, may point toward a new surge in job losses as shutdowns, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders have hurt businesses and weighed on demand for workers.
Continuing claims, those made after an initial application, rose to 22.8 million for the week ended May 2, an increase of 456,000 from the previous week. Those are reported with a one-week lag.
The federal government has been shipping in an extra $600 a week to state unemployment benefits, making the program much more generous. Many workers can now earn more on unemployment than they did when they had a job. These super-sized benefits, however, are set to run out in July.
Last week the government said the U.S. unemployment rate soared to 14.7 percent, the highest since the Great Depression.
The new claims numbers may be undercounting the toll the coronavirus and lockdowns have exacted on the U.S. labor market. Many states have ha problems processing the large amount of claims.