WASHINGTON — Claims for unemployment benefits slid last week both in Maine and nationally, another sign that the job market continues to recover rapidly from the coronavirus recession.

In Maine, initial jobless claims fell to about 1,000 – roughly their lowest weekly total during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Maine Department of Labor. Nationally, initial jobless claims dropped by 24,000 to 400,000 last week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.

In Maine, initial claims filed for state and federal jobless benefits fell by about 300 to 1,000 last week. The number of individuals filing a new claim or reopening a previous claim decreased to 1,200 from about 1,400 the previous week.

Last week’s total of 900 initial state claims was lower than any prior week during the pandemic, but it remained nearly twice as high as the roughly 500 claims filed during the week ending July 20, 2019.

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

Continuing weekly claims, an indicator of prolonged unemployment, decreased significantly in Maine last week by about 1,600 claims from a week earlier to 32,400 last week.

Nationally, continuing claims have fallen more or less steadily this year – from a peak of 904,000 in early January. But they remain high by historic standards: Before COVID struck the United States in March 2020, claims were coming in at about 220,000 a week.

The job market and overall economy have been recovering from the collapse of the spring of 2020. The rollout of vaccines this year has encouraged businesses to reopen or expand their hours and sent cooped-up consumers back out to visit restaurants, bars and shops.

Still the health crisis isn’t over. COVID-19 cases are ticking up as the highly contagious delta variant spreads among the unvaccinated. The United States is reporting an average of more than 50,000 new cases a day, up from fewer than 12,000 a day in late June. The increase in cases could have economic consequences if governments decide to restrict business activity again or if consumers choose to stay at home as a precaution.

For now, though, the economy is so strong that many businesses say they can’t find workers. Employers posted a record 9.2 million job openings in May, advertising vacancies faster than applicants can fill them.

Responding to complaints of a labor shortage, 22 states have decided to end a $300-a-week federal employment benefits meant to cushion the economic fallout from the pandemic. Twenty states have dropped out of two other federal programs – one of which provides benefits to the self-employed and gig workers, and another that serves those who have been out of work for six months or longer. The expanded programs are scheduled to expire nationwide Sept. 6.


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