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Jobless claims continue to improve, drop to pandemic-era low

Today's report was the best since the start of the pandemic, and the new totals reflect a 51% improvement since January.
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A person files an application for unemployment benefits on April 16, 2020, in Arlington, Va.Olivier Douliery / AFP via Getty Images file

After months of hit-or-miss progress on weekly unemployment claims, we're starting to see relatively consistent blue skies. As CNBC reported this morning, the new report from the Labor Department offers a fresh round of encouraging news.

The procession of Americans heading to the unemployment line fell last week, with jobless claims totaling a fresh pandemic-era low of 444,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Economist surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting 452,000 new claims as the jobs picture improves thanks to an accelerated economic reopening across the country.

As we've discussed, it was in March 2020 when jobless claims first spiked in response to the COVID-19 crisis, climbing to over 3 million. That weekly total soon after reached nearly 7 million as the economy cratered. For 55 consecutive weeks, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits was worse than at any time during the Great Recession.

And now, that's no longer the case. In fact, today's report -- like the last few weekly reports -- was the best since the start of the pandemic. What's more, the speed of the progress is important: today's report shows a 51% improvement since January.

To be sure, it'd be a mistake to see 444,000 jobless claims as good news on its own. Under normal circumstances, this would be an awful total. In the early months of 2020, for example, the U.S. average on unemployment claims was roughly 211,000 -- well under half of the total from today's report.

But given what Americans have been dealing with throughout the pandemic, these new figures are worth feeling good about.

Some of the recent economic data is more encouraging than others -- the overall job totals from April were obviously far short of expectations -- but as today's data reminds us, there are multiple indicators suggesting the U.S. recovery is real and headed in the right direction.