By Julia Horowitz, CNN Business
More than 20 months into the pandemic, the US job market has reached a milestone.
Weekly claims for unemployment benefits fell to 199,000 last week after seasonal adjustments, their lowest level since 1969. They hit a peak of 6.15 million in April 2020.
So, does that mean employment conditions are back to normal? Not quite.
“Although the plunge in [unemployment] claims was certainly welcome, it does not indicate a dramatic turn in the labor market,” PNC chief economist Gus Faucher said in a note to clients. “Claims are highly volatile, especially around holidays.”
The reason claims are so low may also have to do with ongoing distortions in the labor market.
“Claims have been trending down as employers keep a tight hold on to their employees because of the labor shortages,” observed Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group.
Demand for workers is high, but the number of people actively seeking work has slipped. In September, the number of people who voluntarily quit their jobs rose to a record high 4.4 million.
The US jobs report for November, due this week, will be watched closely, especially as central bankers weigh their next steps.
Economists polled by Refinitiv expect more good news. They predict that the economy added 563,000 positions, up from 531,000 in October.
The unemployment rate is expected to fall to 4.5%. It was at 3.5% in February 2020.
That could give the Federal Reserve more latitude to roll back stimulus measures as it tries to keep a lid on inflation without jeopardizing the jobs comeback.
In a research note published Thursday, strategists at Goldman Sachs forecast that the Fed would opt to speed up the rate at which it tapers asset purchases. They think the central bank will announce in December that it will reduce bond buying by $30 billion per month starting in January.
That would allow the central bank to consider hiking interest rates, which it has said it will only do once tapering is complete, as soon as March. Goldman expects the Fed to wait until June, though, “when a few additional employment reports will be available.”
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