Claims for jobless benefits drop by 4,000

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment insurance fell last week for a second straight week, an indication that the coronavirus had not yet hit the labor market in a major way.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits, a good proxy for layoffs, dropped by 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 211,000. Claims had fallen by 4,000 in the previous week as well.

Applications for unemployment benefits are being watched for any signs that the virus has started to trigger major layoffs.

Some economists are already warning that the economic impact of the virus could be severe enough to push the global economy into a recession.

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Those concerns have already shown up on Wall Street where the stock market has suffered record declines over the past two weeks.

On Wednesday evening in an address from the Oval Office, President Donald Trump unveiled a series of measures designed to cushion the economic impact of the virus including allowing Americans who have been affected to delay paying their income taxes past the normal April 15 deadline.

Some analysts argue that the economy should be strong enough to withstand the adverse effects of the virus. Last week, the government reported that the unemployment rate in February returned to a 50-year low of 3.5% as employers added 273,000 new jobs, evidence that the labor market was in good shape before the coronavirus began spreading across the country.