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Layoffs improve to pandemic-era low as U.S. economy bounces back

The last time jobless claims were this low, the effects of the pandemic hadn't even reached the United States yet.
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 in the early part of the year, CNBC reported this morning on the newest data from the Labor Department, which offers the best news on layoffs we've seen in a long while.

Initial filings for unemployment insurance fell last week to their lowest levels since March 2020 in another sign that the labor market is gradually improving from the Covid-19 era, the Labor Department reported Thursday. First-time jobless claims totaled 340,000 for the week ended Aug. 28, compared with the 345,000 Dow Jones estimate.

Circling back to our coverage from last month, 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.

All of that appears to be behind us. Looking at today's report, we haven't seen data this good since before the pandemic began in earnest.

To be sure, it'd be a mistake to see 340,000 jobless claims as good news on its own. In fact, 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 below 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.

What's more, as layoffs drop to a 18-month low, job growth has soared over the summer; U.S. factory production is strong; and the domestic economy is currently on pace to grow faster than China's economy for the first time in more than three decades.

It was just a few months ago when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., insisted that President Joe Biden's economic policies "have stalled our recovery," adding, "Bidenomics is bad for America."

There's quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.