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New unemployment claims dip below 700,000 for first time during pandemic

The number is still high, just not as high as it’s been.
A hiring sign shows outside of restaurant in Prospect Heights, Ill. on March 21. The number of new unemployment claims fell to a pandemic-low 684,000 for the week ending March 20, according to Labor Department data. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
A hiring sign shows outside of restaurant in Prospect Heights, Ill. on March 21. The number of new unemployment claims fell to a pandemic-low 684,000 for the week ending March 20, according to Labor Department data. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) [ NAM Y. HUH ]
Published Mar. 25
Updated Mar. 25

America’s up-and-down unemployment situation just took a significant step in the right direction.

For the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of Americans filing new unemployment claims last week fell below 700,000, a threshold the U.S. labor market has approached for months but hasn’t been able to crack.

For the week ending March 20, 684,000 people filed their initial claims for unemployment benefits, a drop of 97,000 from the week before, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

It was during the same week a year ago when pandemic-related unemployment started to explode, with 3.3 million people filing new jobless claims, an increase of 3 million from the week before. Prior to that, new unemployment claims had largely hovered in the low to mid-200,000s.

This week’s total is still historically high — the last time new unemployment claims hit the 600,000s was during the Great Recession in 2009. For the week ending March 13, 3.87 million Americans received unemployment insurance, defined by the Labor Department as two or more weeks of continued claims. Not only is that the first time during the pandemic that number has fallen below 4 million, it’s lower than most weeks from late 2008 to early 2011.

The overall numbers of unemployed Americans remain high compared to previous economic downturns with nearly 19 million Americans receiving some form of jobless aid during the week ending March 6, the most recent week for which that stat is available. During the same week in 2020, it was just over 2 million.

Florida’s new claims also dropped last week to a new pandemic low of 13,892. To date, the state has paid out $24.7 billion to more than 2.3 million claimants during the pandemic.