/Economic Report: U.S. jobless claims dip to 211,000 in early March, no sign yet of coronavirus layoffs

Economic Report: U.S. jobless claims dip to 211,000 in early March, no sign yet of coronavirus layoffs

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Near-empty flights like this could trigger more layoffs if the damage from the coronavirus continues to spread.

The numbers: The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits in early March fell slightly and remained near a 50-year low, indicating the coronavirus has not caused an influx of layoffs so far.

Initial jobless claims dropped 4,000 to 211,000 in the seven days ended March 7, the government said Thursday. The figures are seasonally adjusted.

Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast a 220,000 reading.

New jobless claims are being watched closely for early signs of damage to the economy from the coronavirus. They are likely to rise soon if falling sales force companies to lay off more workers.

Read: Coronavirus and the economy: Businesses face shortages, confidence plunges

What happened: New applications for unemployment benefits give an indication of how many people are losing their jobs. They touched a 50-year low of 193,000 in April 2019 and have hovered in the low 200,000s since then.

Last week, raw or unadjusted jobless claims rose the most in California (2,199), Texas (1,717) and Washington state (1,166). The biggest declines took place in New York (17,093) and Ohio (3,439).

The more stable monthly average of jobless claims, meanwhile, edged up 1,250 to 214,000. The four-week figure filters out the weekly ups and downs to give a better sense of labor-market trends.

The total number of people already collecting unemployment benefits declined by 11,000 to 1.72 million. These claims had soared to as high as 6.6 million near the end of the 2007-2009 recession.

Read: Inflation creeps higher, but it’s ‘all water under a bridge’ as coronavirus spreads

Big picture: Worrisome. Many large events are being canceled, major sports are being suspended or played without fans and Americans are traveling less, suggesting that layoffs may be coming soon to industries such as tourism and hospitality.

Sinking oil prices and supply disruptions have also harmed energy producers and manufacturers.

What might help keep layoffs from spiking, economists say, was an extremely tight labor market before the coronavirus outbreak. If the economy recovers in several months, companies might find it hard to rehire or replace laid-off employees. That could discourage them from slashing payrolls, at least until they get a better handle on how long the crisis will last.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average

DJIA, -5.86%

and S&P 500

SPX, -4.89%

were set to tumble again in Thursday trades. The Dow has lost more than 6,000 points in the past few weeks as nations around the world grapple with the coronavirus.

The 10-year Treasury yield

TMUBMUSD10Y, -18.91%

slipped to 0.69%. Yields are sitting at record lows as investors seek the perceived safety of government bonds.

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