Weekly unemployment requirements:

The first unemployment applications last week were slightly higher than expected, but still reflect a labor market where employers detest firing workers.

First-time applications for benefits in the week ending April 16 totaled 184,000, down 2,000 from the previous week but just ahead of the Dow Jones estimate of 182,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The figures indicate that the US employment picture remains historically tight as job openings exceed the available labor pool by around 5 million.

Continued claims, which run one week after the headline figure, fell by 58,000 to 1.417 million, the lowest level since February 21, 1970.

A separate economic report on Thursday showed that production expanded in the Philadelphia area in April, but at a slower pace than expected.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve’s monthly manufacturing index recorded a reading of 17.6, representing the difference between firms that see expansion versus contraction. That was a drop of nearly 10 points from March and below the Dow Jones estimate of 21.9.

Measurements of new orders, shipments, unfilled orders, delivery times and the average employee working week showed declines from March. However, both paid and received prices rose, reflecting continued inflationary pressures, while the number of employees index also rose.

On Wednesday, the Fed’s “Beige Book” review of economic conditions around the United States noted that companies are having a hard time finding labor.

“Demand for workers continued to be strong across most districts and industrial sectors. However, employment was held back by the general shortage of unemployed workers, although several districts reported signs of modest improvement in worker accessibility,” the report said. “Many companies reported significant revenue as workers left for higher wages and more flexible job plans.”

Fed officials are reacting to the rise in inflation with an expected series of rate hikes that they hope will not derail the 2-year-old economic recovery. Markets expect the central bank’s leading day-to-day lending rate to rise to around 2.5% this year from almost zero, where it was at the beginning of 2022.

The number of unemployment cases reflects the continued increase in employment. The total number of those who received unemployment benefits fell to 1.62 million from data up to 2 April. A year ago, the total number was 17.4 million, a number compared to the government having limited extended unemployment benefits, and as employment accelerated following the release of Covid vaccines and a sharp drop in virus cases.

Yet the labor market has not quite caught up with its pre-pandemic self.

Although unemployment has fallen to 3.6%, there are 408,000 fewer Americans working than in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit. The labor market is also smaller by 174,000, and the employment rate is a whole percentage point below the level before Covid.

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