There are signs the U.S. labor market is healing, although new applications for unemployment benefits are far higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Photo: Ted Shaffrey/Associated Press

Unemployment claims fell slightly last week but remained historically high, signaling layoffs continue as the coronavirus continues to hamper the economic recovery.

New applications for unemployment benefits ticked down to one million in the week ended Aug. 22, the Labor Department said Thursday. Initial unemployment claims remain well below the recent peak of about seven million in March but are far higher than pre-pandemic levels of about 200,000 claims a week.

The number of people collecting unemployment benefits through regular state programs, which cover most workers, edged down to about 14.5 million for the week ended Aug. 15. So-called continuing claims, which are released with a one-week lag, hit a high of nearly 25 million this spring but have declined in recent weeks, a sign companies are bringing back workers.

“We’re seeing gradual improvement, but we really need to underscore the word ‘gradual’ here. We’re only inching along in terms of the labor market’s recovery,” said Sarah House, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities.

In a separate report released Thursday, the Commerce Department revised its estimate of second-quarter economic growth, saying gross domestic product fell at a 31.7% annual rate, slightly less than its earlier estimate of 32.9%, due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

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