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Unemployment Hit Pandemic Low 05/06 07:44


   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell 
last week to 498,000, the lowest point since the viral pandemic struck 14 
months ago and a sign of the job market's growing strength as businesses reopen 
and consumers step up spending.

   Thursday's report from the Labor Department showed that applications 
declined 92,000 from a revised 590,000 a week earlier. The number of weekly 
jobless claims -- a rough measure of the pace of layoffs -- has declined 
significantly from a peak of 900,000 in January as employers have ramped up 

   At the same time, the pace of applications is still well above the roughly 
230,000 level that prevailed before the viral outbreak tore through the economy 
in March of last year.

   As vaccinations have been more widely administered, restrictions on 
businesses have gradually lifted and consumers have become more willing to 
travel, shop and dine out, stronger spending has boosted hiring, slowed layoffs 
and accelerated growth. The economy grew last quarter at a vigorous 6.4% annual 
rate, with expectations that the current quarter will be even better.

   In March, employers added nearly 1 million jobs, the most since August. 
Roughly the same number is expected to be reported Friday when the government 
issues the jobs report for April. Even so, the economy will still be more than 
7 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level.

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