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Fewer Americans got laid off last week. What does that mean for New York?

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The number of newly unemployed Americans dropped to the lowest point in decades last week, a sign of solidity in the country's economic recovery.

Adjusted for seasonality, there were 199,000 initial claims for unemployment insurance, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. During the previous four weeks, the average was much higher: 252,250. For the last week before Covid-19 closures began in March 2020, there were 225,500 seasonally adjusted, new unemployment insurance claims.

A shrinking number of newly unemployed workers points to the fact that companies are not letting people go—meaning their business might be doing well or they do not much fear coming Covid-19 cases or health-related government restrictions.

Without the seasonal adjustment, the picture is less dramatic: There actually were 18,187 more new claims than in the previous week, but that was fewer new claims than government economists had expected. The peculiar nature of the pandemic recovery has seemed to challenge the country's economic models, with larger-than-usual revisions made to previously reported data such as employment figures.

There is a New York state number, but it is not seasonally adjusted. For the week that ended Nov. 20, it was 14,659, "a level that is far from the lowest weekly level at a multitude of points in recent years," according to James Parrott, an economist at the Center for New York City Affairs.

In New York City, there is evidence that pandemic-related job losses have stopped. In October, the month after federal pandemic unemployment supplements ended, city employers added 40,200 positions. The number of worker adjustment and retraining notifications, which employers are required to file when they let go of 50 or more people from a single location, has grown noticeably slowly all year.

Still, the city has so far added only about 170,000 positions all year, nowhere near the 400,000 its Office of Management and Budget predicted in April. There are about 416,000 lost positions, compared with the six-month period before the closures. The city's labor force and its labor force participation rate are both below pre-pandemic levels, meaning that some of the missing jobs simply have not been filled by those who used to work in them.

Gov. Kathy Hochul looked to juice the recovery Nov. 16 by adding a $5,000-per-worker incentive to companies in tourism that hired people and retained them for six months, amounting to a $100 million advance on employment.

With the larger federal economic relief programs ended, it's possible that a new wave of closures could come eventually if businesses that have hung on until now throw in the towel.

For example, two-thirds of city restaurants that applied did not receive economic relief from the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund

"The government made it easier for one-third of restaurants, and that inadvertently and unintentionally made it harder for the other two-thirds," said Gabriel Stulman, a West Village restaurateur who closed half of his eateries during the last year-plus. "But the fallout might not be seen for years."

Another unknown that could affect employment is President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for private companies with more than 100 employees. It was supposed to take effect in January; however, a federal appeals court stayed the mandate this month.

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