WASHINGTON — The number of initial unemployment claims filed in the United States rose last week from the lowest point of the pandemic, even as the job market appears to be rebounding on the strength of a reopened economy. In Maine, new jobless claims have held steady for the past few weeks.

The U.S. Labor Department said Thursday that initial jobless claims increased last week to 419,000 from 368,000 the previous week. The weekly number of first-time applications for benefits, which generally tracks layoffs, has fallen steadily since topping 900,000 in early January.

In Maine, initial claims filed for state and federal jobless benefits held steady at about 1,300 last week. The number of individuals filing a new claim or reopening a previous claim increased to 1,400 from about 1,300 the previous week.

Last week’s total of 1,200 initial state claims was slightly higher in Maine than during late summer 2020, which reached a pandemic low of about 1,100 state claims during the week ending Aug. 8.

In addition to claims for state benefits, about 100 new claims for federal jobless benefits were filed by Mainers last week.

Continuing weekly claims, an indicator of prolonged unemployment, increased in Maine last week by about 900 claims from a week earlier to 34,000 last week.

Americans are shopping, traveling and eating out more as the pandemic has waned, boosting the economy and forcing businesses to scramble for more workers. Companies have posted the highest number of available jobs in the two decades that the data has been tracked. Hiring has picked up, though businesses say they often can’t find enough employees at the wages they’re willing to pay.

At the same time, analysts are becoming concerned about the potential economic consequences of an increase in confirmed viral infections as the highly contagious delta variant spreads, especially among the unvaccinated. The seven-day rolling U.S. average for daily new cases accelerated over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 as of Tuesday, from fewer than 13,700, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Complaints by companies that they can’t find enough workers have led 22 states to prematurely end a $300-a-week federal unemployment benefit, which comes on top of state jobless aid. Twenty states have ended their participation in two other federal programs – one of which provides benefits to the self-employed and gig workers and and another that serves people who have been out of work for six months or longer.

Officials in two other states, Indiana and Maryland, had sought to end the supplemental aid programs but were blocked by court rulings. Nationally, the programs all will expire in early September.

The long-term decline in applications for jobless aid coincides with accelerating economic growth. The U.S. economy is thought to have expanded briskly during the April-June quarter as Americans, flush with cash from stimulus checks and from stock market and home equity, stepped up their spending.

Purchases at retail stores and restaurants rose in June, the government said last week. Retail sales are roughly 20 percent above pre-pandemic levels.


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