Workers file 684,000 jobless claims, fewest since the pandemic began

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The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped below its pre-coronavirus record for the first time in a year last week as the labor market continued to heal, the feds said Thursday.

Last week’s 684,000 initial jobless claims brought the total for the COVID-19 pandemic to more than 82.5 million — a number more than twice the size of Iraq’s entire population.

But the figure finally came in below the pre-pandemic watermark of 695,000 after 52 consecutive weeks of painfully high levels of layoffs.

Economists say there’s more light at the end of the tunnel with lockdowns loosening, vaccinations rising and warmer weather on the horizon.

“With the increased pace of COVID-19 vaccinations, federal stimulus spending and winter’s grip easing across much of the country, it is quite reasonable to harbor upbeat expectations for the US economy,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “This should be reflected in more of the economic data in the months ahead.”

In another sign that the job market is slowly thawing, the four-week moving average for new jobless filings dropped by 736,000 last week from 749,000 the prior week, federal data show.

The latest US Department of Labor figures came a week ahead of the feds’ closely watched jobs report for March. Economists expect it to show non-farm payrolls adding 500,000 jobs this month, up from 379,000 in February, according to Wrightson ICAP.

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