By nearly all measures, though, the economy has been strengthening. During March, employers added 916,000 jobs, the most since August, and the unemployment rate declined from 6.2% to 6%. In February, the pace of job openings reached its highest level on record. Last month, consumer confidence posted its highest reading in a year.
And this week, the International Monetary Fund forecast that the U.S. economy will grow 6.4% this year. That would fastest annual pace since 1984 and the strongest among the world’s wealthiest countries.
Most economists say they think the still-high level of unemployment applications should gradually fade.
“Jobless claims may bounce around week to week as the recovery takes hold, but we expect they will start to decline more consistently as the economy gains momentum," economists Nancy Vanden Houten and Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics said in a research note. “We expect the stellar March jobs report to be the first of many and look for a hiring boom in the spring and summer months.''
Still, the United States still has 8.4 million fewer jobs than it had in February 2020, just before the pandemic struck. New confirmed coronavirus cases, which had dropped sharply from early January through early March, have plateaued over the past month. In addition, the vaccination rate for elderly Americans, who are among the most vulnerable, has dramatically slowed even as the supply of vaccines has expanded.
And the data firm Womply reports that the percentage of businesses that remained closed last week rose from the beginning of March — from 38% to 45% for bars; from 35% to 46% for beauty shops; and from 30% to 38% for restaurants.