The US labor market recovery accelerated last week as fewer Americans hit the unemployment line, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Initial unemployment insurance claims were 547,000, below the Dow Jones estimate of 603,000 and a new low for the Covid-19 pandemic.

The sum represents a further decline in claims and brings the image of jobs closer to where they were before the pandemic, although there is still a long way to go.

With Covid-19 cases declining and more states easing business restrictions, companies are trying again to hire workers before a summer of near-normal activity is expected in the US

Still, around 8 million Americans are working less than they did before the pandemic broke out.

Thursday’s report showed that both unemployment and underemployment remain significant problems for the US economy.

There are still 17.4 million Americans receiving benefits under the various existing programs, although that data is two weeks behind the total number of claims. The sharp increases in those applying for pandemic program benefits added nearly half a million to the total number of recipients.

Persistent claims, a week behind the headlines, also fell, falling 34,000 to 3.67 million, a new pandemic low and another indication that conditions are thawing.

Despite the ongoing problems for workers, the advances in Covid, particularly the roughly 3 million or so vaccines given daily, have helped highlight the worst and fastest job loss in American history.

The number of unemployment claims reached an astonishing 6.2 million in the first days of the economic standstill at the beginning of April 2020, erasing the previous record of 695,000 in October 1982. Since the peak of last year, the number has tended to go down but remains stubbornly high, only falling below that pre-pandemic record last week.

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