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the coronavirus crisis

Jobless claims decline to lowest level since the pandemic began

The number of Americans filing new jobless claims just unexpectedly hit the lowest level of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Labor Department said Thursday that 684,000 Americans filed new jobless claims last week, a decline of 97,000 from the revised level of the week prior. Not only was this below the 735,000 claims economists were expecting, it was also the lowest number of new claims since March 14, 2020, CNBC reports.

The decline in jobless claims comes as numerous states have taken steps to ease COVID-19 restrictions in recent weeks while coronavirus vaccines roll out, although the director of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has expressed concern about the possibility of another surge in cases. Earlier this month, the latest U.S. jobs report for February beat expectations, with the U.S. economy adding 379,000 jobs, more than the 210,000 experts predicted.

The latest jobless numbers mark the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that the number of weekly claims has been lower than the pre-pandemic record of 695,000.

"Things have improved over the last year, but there are still millions of people dealing with real economic pain," Indeed Hiring Lab economist AnnElizabeth Konkel said, per NBC News. "Increased vaccinations are hopefully the beginning of the end. Once the public health situation is improved, a full recovery can finally take place."