Jobless claims drop to nearly 18-month low

Employers are retaining their workers despite the rapid spread of the Delta variant. The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell more than expected last week to its lowest level in nearly 18 months.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial claims dropped to 310,000. But the tally remains historically high, hovering above its level of about a quarter million before the health crisis struck.

The latest report suggests the labor market is holding up despite the resurgence in infections that held back job growth in August. And it offers more evidence that that job growth is being hindered not by cooling demand but by labor shortages.

While there’s cautious optimism that the expiration of unemployment benefits and the start of the school year will push people off the sidelines and back into the labor force, the Delta variant could make some people reluctant to return to their workplace.

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