The total claims of 963,000 for the week ended Aug. 8 were well below the estimate of 1.1 million from economists surveyed by Dow Jones. That represented a decline of 228,000 from the previous week’s total.
Jobless claims had totaled above 1 million for 20 consecutive weeks as the U.S. economy went into lockdown to contain Covid-19. The last time the total was below that number was March 14, with 282,000, just as the pandemic declaration first hit.
Markets cut losses following the report, and Wall Street indicated a flat open for stocks. Equities were little changed in midmorning trading.
The total marks the second week of declines since a provision expired July 31 that gave unemployment insurance recipients an extra $600 a week on top of their normal compensation. Congressional leaders are debating an extension as President Donald Trump issued an executive order that would provide an extra $400.
The total number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits fell sharply for the week ended July 25, down more than 3 million to 28.26 million, also pointing to a downward trend in joblessness. A year ago, that number was 1.7 million.
Those receiving benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program totaled 488,622, a decline of 167,377 from a week ago. The program provides compensation to those who normally wouldn’t be eligible for benefits such as independent contractors.