Slight uptick in national unemployment claims. Labor market continues to recover, as new Covid variant boosts uncertainty.

U.S. jobless claims increased by just 28,000 last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

In the week ending November 27, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 222,000, an increase of 28,000 from the previous week’s revised level. The previous week’s level was revised down by 5,000 from 199,000 to 194,000. The 4-week moving average was 238,750, a decrease of 12,250 from the previous week’s revised average. This is the lowest level for this average since March 14, 2020 when it was 225,500. The previous week’s average was revised down by 1,250 from 252,250 to 251,000.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 1.4 percent for the week ending November 20, a decrease of 0.1 percentage point from the previous week’s unrevised rate.

That’s pretty good news, so far as it goes. Of course, there’s still a persistent shortage of workers to claim unfilled jobs, as the labor market has contracted during the pandemic. The Associated Press reports,

In March and April last year, employers slashed more than 22 million jobs.

But government relief checks, super-low interest rates and the rollout of vaccines combined to give consumers the confidence and financial wherewithal to start spending again. Employers, scrambling to meet an unexpected surge in demand, have made 18 million new hires since April 2020, and the jobs report out Friday is expected to show that they added another 535,000 in November. Still, the United States remains 4 million short of the jobs it had in February 2020.

Companies now complain that they can’t find workers to fill job openings, a near-record 10.4 million in September. Workers, finding themselves with bargaining clout for the first time in decades, are becoming choosier about jobs; a record 4.4 million quit in September, a sign they have confidence in their ability to find something better.

You knew this caveat would appear in most jobs stories.

Still, economists warn that that highly transmissible omicron variant could disrupt the economic rebound.

“Workers are in high demand and businesses are reluctant to reduce their workforce amid persisting shortages,″ said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “Our base case was that supply (of workers) would gradually return as the cushion from savings diminished. However, renewed health concerns are a downside risk that may prevent people from returning to the workforce over coming months.″

From Bloomberg,

Employers have been desperate to attract and retain talent amid widespread labor shortages. Job cuts fell 77% in November from a year ago to the lowest level since 1993, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The figures come a day before the government’s monthly employment report, which is projected to show payrolls increased by 546,000 in November.

Again, good news with an asterisk.