New claims for unemployment benefits fell last week, the government reported on Thursday, as the labor market slowly recovers from the staggering losses wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic.
About 487,000 workers filed first-time claims for state benefits during the week that ended May 8, the Labor Department said, a decrease from 514,000 the week before. In addition, about 104,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits.
Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 473,000.
After more than a year of being whipsawed by the pandemic, the economy has been showing new life. Restrictions are lifting, businesses are reopening and job listings are on the upswing. But hiring in April was weaker than expected.
Some employers, particularly in the restaurant and hospitality sectors, have complained of having trouble finding workers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several Republican governors have asserted that a temporary $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement has made workers reluctant to return to the job.
The U.S. Labor Department said that as of Wednesday, six states — Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina — had notified the department that they were terminating federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits next month.
The unemployment rates in those states in March, the latest month for which data is available, ranged from 3.7 percent in Iowa to 6.3 percent in Mississippi.
Several other states with Republican governors, including Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Wyoming and Idaho, have said they also plan to withdraw from the federal program. Tennessee and Alabama are among the states that offer the lowest maximum benefit to qualified individuals each week.
But economists are skeptical that jobless benefits are playing anything more than a bit part in the pace of the job market’s recovery.
“There is tremendous churn in this labor market,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “There are still major supply constraints and unemployment benefits are not the most important one. The virus is.”
Many workers have children at home who are not attending school in person. Others are wary of returning to jobs that require face-to-face encounters. Covid-19 infections have decreased since September but there are still 38,000 new cases being reported each day and 600 Covid-related deaths. Less than half the population is fully vaccinated.
There is halting progress from employers as well, as businesses continually update their assessment of costs and customer demand. “The hiring pattern isn’t going to be smooth,” Mr. Daco said. “Businesses hire and then reassess. They need to find the right balance, it’s a trial and error process more than anything.”
Federal jobless benefits are due to expire in September. Prematurely halting them is “detrimental to the economy,” Mr. Daco said. “You’re voluntarily hurting certain vulnerable tranches of the population.”
Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 6.1 percent, and there are 8.2 million fewer jobs than in February 2020.
Competing with fast-food chains, restaurants and other businesses for workers, McDonald’s said on Thursday that it, too, will raise wages at some restaurants in an effort to attract employees.
The company said it would increase hourly wages for current employees by an average of 10 percent and that the entry-level wage for new employees would rise to $11 to $17 an hour, based on the location of the restaurant.
The pay increases do not affect the 95 percent of the nearly 14,000 restaurants in the United States that are independently owned, only the 650 company-owned restaurants.
Responding to a tight job market and echoing a move earlier this week by the burrito chain Chipotle, McDonald’s said it hoped the higher pay would attract as many as 10,000 new employees in the next three months, as the busy summer season approaches and dine-in restrictions are removed at many of its restaurants.
At its company-owned restaurants, McDonald’s said the average employee wage would increase to $13 an hour, with some restaurants achieving an average wage of $15 an hour later this year. All company-owned restaurants expected to be at an average salary of $15 by 2024, the company noted.
Still, that falls short of the minimum wage of $15 an hour being demanded by the Fight for $15 organization, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union. The Fight for $15 organization is spearheading a strike by McDonald’s employees in several cities across the country on Wednesday ahead of the company’s annual shareholder meeting.
Earlier this year, McDonald’s announced it would no longer use its powerful lobbying arm to fight attempts to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour at the federal, state and local level. In a call with Wall Street analysts in January, the McDonald’s chief executive, Chris Kempczinski, said the company was doing “just fine” in the more than two dozen states that had increased minimum wages in a phased-in way.
In fact, despite having many of its dining rooms closed or with limited capacity in parts of the country for much of the pandemic, the strength of McDonald’s drive-throughs helped push its profit to more than $4.7 billion in 2020. It paid its shareholders more than $3.7 billion in dividends and spent another $874 million repurchasing shares before suspending the program in early March of last year.
Mr. Kempczinski agreed to cut his base salary in half last year, but his total compensation still soared to more than $10.8 million.
Stocks continued to tumble around the world on Thursday after faster-than-expected inflation data in the United States rattled markets the previous day.
The S&P 500 is expected to open 0.4 percent lower when markets open, extending a 2.1 percent drop on Wednesday. It is set to be the fourth straight day of declines for the benchmark index, the longest streak since late February. Nasdaq futures slipped 0.1 percent.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 1.3 percent with the FTSE 100 in Britain falling 2.1 percent and the DAX in Germany declining 1.5 percent. The Nikkei 225 slumped 2.5 percent in Japan and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong dropped 1.8 percent.
The U.S. Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation, climbed 4.2 percent in April from a year earlier, the fastest pace of increase since 2008. From March to April, prices increased 0.8 percent; economists surveyed by Bloomberg only forecast a 0.2 percent increase.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes held steady at about 1.7 percent after jumping seven basis points, or 0.07 percentage point, on Wednesday.
Federal Reserve policymakers have said that they expect the current increase in inflation to be transitory and would not set off a pullback in monetary stimulus. But the increase in April’s inflation reading, beyond what other analysts forecast, has some traders testing this view.
Oil prices fell on Thursday after Colonial Pipeline said it had begun to restart operations along its massive pipeline, which transports gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from Texas to New Jersey. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, dropped 2.4 percent to $64.47 a barrel.
Other commodity prices have also fallen from recent highs. Iron ore futures were down 3.6 percent after climbing to a record this week. Aluminum prices fell 1.6 percent and silver prices were down 1.4 percent.
Bitcoin prices fell 12 percent to below $50,000, according to CoinDesk, after Elon Musk said Tesla would stop accepting the cryptocurrency as payment for its electric cars. Mr. Musk citing concerns about the energy consumption used in mining for Bitcoin, a longstanding issue. Tesla’s share price fell 1.5 percent in premarket trading.
Most other cryptocurrencies fell on Thursday with CoinMarketCap valuing the global market at $2.2 trillion, down 11 percent from the day before.
Shares in Coinbase, an exchange for people and companies to buy and sell various digital currencies, dropped 5.5 percent in premarket trading.
The operator of Colonial Pipeline said on Wednesday that it had started to resume pipeline operations but noted that “it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal.”
The pipeline, which stretches from Texas to New Jersey, had been shut down since Friday after a ransomware attack.
“There will be lag time between Colonial Pipeline reopening and increases in fuel availability for general public,” warned an internal assessment of potential impact drawn up by the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security. It noted that the fuel “travels through the pipeline at 5 miles per hour” and would take “approximately two weeks to travel from the Gulf Coast to New York.”
The company has refused to say whether it had paid a ransom or was considering doing so. On Wednesday, administration officials said they believed the company was avoiding paying the ransom, at least for now. Instead, they said, the company was trying to reconstruct its systems with a patchwork of backed-up data.
Gasoline prices in Georgia and a few other states rose 8 to 10 cents a gallon on Wednesday alone, a jump not usually seen without a major hurricane shutting down refineries. At some stations, people were filling up gasoline cans, forcing others to wait longer and causing shouting matches. Lines of 20 to 25 cars waited at the few stations operating in Chapel Hill, N.C., where almost all the gas stations lacked fuel.
Three months after Tesla said it would begin accepting the cryptocurrency Bitcoin as payment, the electric carmaker has abruptly reversed course.
In a message posted to Twitter on Wednesday, Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, said Tesla had suspended accepting Bitcoin because of concern about the energy consumed by computers crunching the calculations that underpin the currency.
“Cryptocurrency is a good idea on many levels and we believe it has a promising future, but this cannot come at a great cost to the environment,” Mr. Musk wrote. “We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel.”
Earlier this year, Tesla announced that it had purchased $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin and Mr. Musk trumpeted the company’s plan to accept the currency. Tesla later sold about $300 million of its Bitcoin holdings, proceeds that padded its bottom line in the first quarter.
“Tesla will not be selling any Bitcoin and we intend to use it for transactions as soon as mining transitions to more sustainable energy,” Mr. Musk wrote on Wednesday, referring to the process through which new Bitcoin is created.
The price of Bitcoin dipped slightly after the announcement, according to Coindesk.
As cryptocurrencies explode in value, the amount of energy used by the digital currencies is increasingly under scrutiny. Some estimates put the energy use of Bitcoin at more than the entire country of Argentina.
“Bitcoin uses more electricity per transaction than any other method known to mankind, and so it’s not a great climate thing,” Bill Gates said in February.
Mr. Musk also said on Wednesday that Tesla was “looking at other cryptocurrencies” that use a fraction of the energy consumed by Bitcoin. Mr. Musk has been a promoter of Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that started as a joke but that has exploded in value. In an appearance on “Saturday Night Live” last week, Mr. Musk referred to Dogecoin as a “hustle.” Dogecoin fell by nearly a third in price on the night of the show.