The pain in the job market continues as an additional 1.5 million sought jobless benefits for the first time last week, down 355,000 from the prior week. Continued claims fell by 339,000 to 20.9 million, a sign that more people are returning to work as the economy reopens after pandemic lockdowns.
More than 44 million first-time claims have been filed in the past 12 weeks.
The Federal Reserve is projecting that the unemployment rate will be more than 9% by year end, falling to 6.5% by the end of 2021.
That's down from last month's lower-than-expected 13.3% rate but up sharply from a nearly 50-year low of 3.5% earlier this year before the coronavirus crisis shut down much of the economy. Employers added 2.5 million jobs in May, but they slashed 20.7 million just a month earlier.
"The May employment report, of course, was a welcome surprise," Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday. "We hope we get many more like it. But I think we have to be honest. It's a long road."