WASHINGTON - The U.S. economy advanced by 5.7% in 2021, the fastest full-year gain since 1984, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.
The sharp growth in the world's biggest economy showed its resiliency, even as the United States struggled to cope with two new coronavirus variants that hobbled some industries, caused supply chain issues for consumer goods that at times left store shelves empty and a 7% year-over-year surge in consumer prices that was the highest in four decades.
But for the year, a record 6.4 million jobs were created and most of the jobs lost at the outset of the pandemic in early 2020 have been recovered.
Analysts say the economic growth may have slowed in January because of the omicron variant, as thousands of workers called in sick, often canceling airline flights, curbing business activity and again limiting in-class instruction at some schools and universities.
But the government said the overall economic growth was still evident in the October-to-December quarter, with a 6.9% annualized advance, three times the 2.3% pace of the July-through-September period.
The country's robust economy pushed Federal Reserve policymakers on Wednesday to announce they could boost their benchmark interest rate as early as March after keeping it near zero percent since the coronavirus first swept into the United States in March 2020. The Fed could increase the rate, which has a broad effect on consumer and business borrowing costs, several more times this year.
Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported Thursday that 260,000 unemployed U.S. workers made first-time claims for jobless compensation last week, down 30,000 from the revised figure of the week before.
The latest total is in line with the 256,000 figure recorded in mid-March 2020, just before the coronavirus wreaked havoc on U.S. economic activity and businesses started laying off workers by the hundreds of thousands.
In recent weeks, the U.S. has been recording 600,000 to 750,000 or more new cases of the coronavirus every day, largely because of the highly transmissible omicron variant.
FILE - A sign seeking workers is displayed at a fast food restaurant in Portland, Oregon, Dec. 27, 2021.
For the most part, however, employers have been retaining their workers and searching for more as the United States continues its rapid economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The country's unemployment rate dropped in December to 3.9%, not far above the five-decade low of 3.5% recorded before the pandemic took hold.
Many employers are looking for more workers, despite about 6.9 million workers remaining unemployed in the United States.
At the end of November, there were 10.4 million job openings in the U.S., but the skills of available workers often do not match what employers want, or the job openings are not where the unemployed live. In addition, many of the available jobs are low-wage service positions that the jobless are shunning.