filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, a decrease of 153,000 from the previous week.
In addition, 132,000 filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. That was a decline of 20,000 from the previous week.
Neither figure is seasonally adjusted.
In another sign of the recovery underway, retail sales surged in March, the Commerce Department said on Thursday, as Americans spent their latest round of government stimulus checks and the continued roll out of coronavirus vaccines lured more people back into stores.
The 9.8 percent increase last month was a strong comeback from the nearly 3 percent drop in February.
With the pandemic’s end seemingly in sight, the economy is poised for a robust comeback. But weekly applications for unemployment claims have remained stubbornly high for months, frustrating the recovery even as businesses reopen and vaccination rates increase.
“The job market conditions for job seekers have really improved extremely quickly between January and now,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the job site ZipRecruiter. “But there are still huge barriers to returning to work.”
Jobless claims for the next few months could remain much higher than they were before the pandemic as the labor market adjusts to a new normal.
Concerns about workplace safety persist, especially for workers who are not yet vaccinated. Many children are still attending schools remotely, complicating the full-time work prospects for their caregivers.
But there is hope on the horizon as those barriers begin to fall. President Biden moved up the deadline for states to make all adults eligible for vaccination to April 19, and every state has complied. Students who have been learning remotely will begin to return to the classroom in earnest.
“This was the deepest, swiftest recession ever, but it’s also turning into the fastest recovery,” Ms. Pollak said. “And I don’t think we should lose sight of that just because some of the measures are a little stubborn.”