WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits plummeted last week to the lowest level in more than half a century, another sign that the U.S. job market is rebounding rapidly from last year’s coronavirus recession.
Jobless claims dropped by 71,000 to 199,000, the lowest since mid-November 1969 when it was 197,000. The drop was much bigger than economists expected.
The four-week average of claims, which smooths out weekly ups and downs, also dropped — by 21,000 to just over 252,000, the lowest since mid-March 2020 when the pandemic slammed the economy.
Seasonal adjustments around the Thanksgiving holiday contributed significantly to the bigger-than-expected drop.
President Joe Biden celebrated the unemployment numbers in a statement Wednesday, saying it underscores that the nation’s recovery is continuing to progress at a historic pace.
“Last year, there were 21 million unemployment insurance claims before the Thanksgiving holiday. Today, there were 2.4 million,” wrote Biden. “This is a historic jobs recovery: 5.6 million jobs created since I took office and an unemployment rate of 4.6% — two full years earlier than experts predicted was possible.”
Biden also noted that the U.S. economy grew at a faster rate in the first three quarters of the year than in any year in nearly 40 years.
“In fact, according to the OECD, the U.S. is the only major economy that has exceeded its pre-pandemic level of gross domestic product,” wrote Biden.
The president noted in his statement that the U.S. still has more work to do before the economy is back to normal, including addressing prices increases.
On Tuesday, Biden announced that he has directed the Department of Energy to release 50 million barrels of oil from the U.S.'s strategic reserve in the hopes of lowering gas prices.
The administration is also continuing to advocate for the Build Back Better Act to be passed by Congress, which the White House says would cut costs for American families without adding to price pressures.
“Build Back Better will cut the cost of prescription drugs, health care, child care and housing for tens of millions of middle class families and seniors – while extending critical middle class tax relief that is helping working families make ends meet,” wrote Biden in his statement.