U.S. unemployment claims drop below 700,000 for the the first time in a year.

Weekly job claims fell to the lowest level nationally since the pandemic sent claims soaring last year. The Department of Labor reports,

In the week ending March 20, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 684,000, a decrease of 97,000 from the previous week’s revised level. The previous week’s level was revised up by 11,000 from 770,000 to 781,000. The 4-week moving average was 736,000, a decrease of 13,000 from the previous week’s revised average. The previous week’s average was revised up by 2,750 from 746,250 to 749,000.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.7 percent for the week ending March 13, a decrease of 0.2 percentage point from the previous week’s unrevised rate.

Here’s the chart showing the steady decline.

The Associated Press reports,

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to 684,000, the fewest since the pandemic erupted a year ago and a sign that the economy is improving.

Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims fell from 781,000 the week before. It is the first time that weekly applications for jobless aid have fallen below 700,000 since mid-March of last year. Before the pandemic tore through the economy, applications had never topped that level.

While, as the AP notes, the pandemic continues to exact a stiff economic toll and there are risks to the recovery, things appear to be steadily improving.

Some analysts are increasingly optimistic that hiring will accelerate quickly this year. Two senior fellows at the Brookings Institution have forecast that employers will add a substantial 700,000 to 1 million jobs per month, on average, over the next 10 months. At the higher end of that estimate, the economy by year’s end would have regained all the 9.5 million jobs that remain lost to the pandemic.

Good news.