WASHINGTON — The number of claims filed for unemployment benefits nationwide rose last week even though the U.S. job market has been rebounding from last year’s coronavirus recession with a near-record 10.4 million job openings in September.

U.S. jobless claims climbed by 28,000 to 222,000 from the previous week’s pandemic low of 194,000, the federal Labor Department reported Thursday. The four-week average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week ups and downs, fell below 239,000, a pandemic low.

Since topping 900,000 in early January, the weekly applications – a proxy for layoffs – have been falling more or less steadily.

Overall, 2 million Americans were receiving traditional jobless benefits the week that ended Nov. 20, down by 107,000 from the week before.

In Maine, new unemployment claims decreased to about 810 from 940 claims the previous week, while continuing weekly claims decreased to 4,790 from 4,880. Only six Mainers applied for extended benefits last week, roughly the same as for the previous several weeks.

Until Sept. 6, the federal government had supplemented state unemployment insurance programs by paying an extra $300 a week and extending benefits to gig workers and to those who were out of work for six months or more. Including the federal programs, the number of Americans receiving some form of jobless aid peaked at more than 33 million in June 2020.

The job market has rebounded strongly since the spring of 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to close or cut hours and kept many Americans at home as a health precaution. In March and April last year, employers slashed more than 22 million jobs.

But government relief checks, super-low interest rates and the rollout of vaccines combined to give consumers the confidence and financial wherewithal to start spending again. Employers, scrambling to meet an unexpected surge in demand, have made 18 million new hires since April 2020, and the jobs report due out Friday is expected to show that they added another 535,000 in November. Still, the United States remains 4 million jobs short of what it had in February 2020.

Companies now complain that they can’t find workers to fill job openings, a near-record 10.4 million in September. Workers, finding themselves with bargaining clout for the first time in decades, are becoming choosier about jobs; a record 4.4 million quit in September, a sign they have confidence in their ability to find something better.


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