Worker filings for jobless claims rose to 744,000 last week, pausing a downward trend amid other signs of recent labor-market improvement.

Initial claims unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, increased by a seasonally adjusted 16,000 last week from an upwardly revised 728,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, which smooths out volatility in the figures, rose slightly to 723,750 from 721,250.

Despite the increase, claims remain close to the lowest point since mid-March of last year, when the pandemic triggered millions of layoffs. Claims are still well above the weekly average of around 220,000 in the year before Covid-19’s arrival.

With nearly one-quarter of U.S. adults now fully vaccinated, consumers are spending more on gyms, restaurants, hotels and other services they had shunned over the last year, setting in motion a post-pandemic spending boom. Economists are closely watching unemployment claims numbers for signs that layoffs are moderating as businesses scramble to keep up with consumers.

“The movement overall is in the right direction,” Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com, said. “As we get closer to herd immunity, as restrictions can be lifted—think about dining rooms that can go from 50{960021229dc1dc07dce4932a9ddab0b26243ff9ca1f758a9c1fcae84a7a57436} to 100{960021229dc1dc07dce4932a9ddab0b26243ff9ca1f758a9c1fcae84a7a57436} capacity and baseball stadiums that can be 100{960021229dc1dc07dce4932a9ddab0b26243ff9ca1f758a9c1fcae84a7a57436} instead of 10{960021229dc1dc07dce4932a9ddab0b26243ff9ca1f758a9c1fcae84a7a57436}–those are things that get us closer to where we were before.”


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