Jobless claims less than expected as labor market returns to pre-pandemic self

Initial claims for unemployment insurance rose last week but held at levels consistent with how the job market looked before the Covid-19 pandemic devastated the U.S. employment picture, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

First-time filings for the week ended Nov. 27 totaled 222,000, less than the 240,000 Wall Street expected. That was higher than the 194,000 from the previous week, but that total, the lowest since 1969, was revised even further down from the initial 199,000 reported.

The totals are the product of heavy seasonal adjustments, though the unadjusted number was actually lower, at 211,896.

The report comes amid signs of an increasingly tight labor market, with workers leaving their positions for new jobs at the highest level on record and with hiring persisting at a brisk pace.

In addition to the brightened outlook for initial claims, continuing claims fell by another 107,000 and are now below 2 million for the first time since the early days of the pandemic. The last time continuing claims, which run a week behind the headline number, were lower than the current 1.96 million was March 14, 2020.

Virginia and Texas combined to see more than 15,000 fewer claims filed for the week, according to unadjusted data.

Thursday’s report comes a day ahead of the closely watched nonfarm payrolls count from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That tally is expected to show an addition of 573,000 new jobs in November, following a gain of 531,000 in October. The unemployment rate is expected to edge lower to 4.5%.

Correction: Jobless claims for the previous week were initially reported as 199,000. An earlier version misstated the figure.