US Jobless Benefit Claims Drop Sharply 

Claims for jobless benefits dropped sharply in the U.S. last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, as the world’s biggest economy continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.   A total of 364,000 unemployed workers sought government compensation, down 51,000 from the revised figure of the week before, the agency said. It was the lowest total since mid-March 2020, when the figure was 256,000.   The weekly claims total has tracked unevenly in recent weeks, topping more than 400,000 for two straight weeks until last week’s lower figure. But overall, jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs of workers, have fallen by more than 40% since early April, while remaining well above pre-pandemic levels.   State governors and municipal officials across the U.S. have been ending coronavirus restrictions, in many cases allowing businesses for the first time in a year to completely reopen to customers. That could lead to more hiring of workers.   More than 57% of U.S. adults have now been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, boosting the economic recovery, although the pace of inoculations has dropped markedly from its peak several weeks ago.   Officials in many states are now offering a variety of incentives to entice the unvaccinated to get inoculated, including entry into lucrative lotteries for cash and free college tuition. Still, the White House says it does not expect that the U.S. will meet President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% of adult Americans with at least one vaccination shot by the July 4 Independence Day holiday this coming weekend. The figure now stands shy of that at 66.5%.   The U.S. added 559,000 jobs in May, more than twice the 266,000 in April. Still, about 9.3 million people remain unemployed in the U.S., according to the government.   Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told Congress last week that the U.S. economy continues to show “sustained improvement” with ongoing increases in the number of available jobs. But he voiced concern that the recovery remains uneven, with joblessness hurting lower-wage workers, Blacks and Hispanics the most.   Powell predicted that job gains “should pick up in coming months.”   With the business reopenings, many employers are reporting a shortage of workers, particularly for low-wage jobs such as restaurant servers and retail clerks.   Many businesses complain they are unable to find enough applicants for the job openings. The jobless rate fell to 5.8% in May, still higher than the 3.5% rate in March of last year before the pandemic was declared. The government is set to release the June figure on Friday.   The federal government approved sending $300-a-week supplemental unemployment benefits to jobless workers through early September on top of less generous state-by-state payments.   But at least 25 of the 50 states, all led by Republican governors, have started ending participation in the federal payments program, contending that the stipends let workers make more money than they would by returning to work and thus are hurting the recovery by not filling available job openings.   Some economists say, however, other factors prevent people from returning to work, such as lack of childcare or fear of contracting the coronavirus.   The economic picture in the U.S. has advanced as money from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package filters through the economy. The measure has likely boosted consumer spending, as millions of Americans, all but the highest wage earners, are now receiving $1,400 stimulus checks from the government or have already been sent the extra cash.   With more money in their wallets and more people vaccinated, Americans are venturing back to some sense of normalcy, going out to restaurants and spending money on items they had not purchased for a year.   Biden is proposing an additional $4 trillion or more in government spending on infrastructure repairs, assistance for children and families and advances for clean energy. But the overall package has been met with stiff resistance from Republicans, who object to the cost of the package and Biden’s plan calling for higher taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations.   The fate of the proposals in the politically divided Congress remains uncertain, but Biden reached an infrastructure deal last week with a group of 10 centrist Republican and Democratic U.S. senators to repair roads and bridges and expand broadband internet service. However, it is unclear whether there are enough votes in Congress to adopt it. 

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