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WASHINGTON: Fewer Americans made unemployment benefit filings last week than at any other point since the pandemic, government data said Thursday, underscoring the labor market is bouncing back from the downturn.

The Labor Department reported 281,000 new seasonally adjusted jobless benefit claims filed in the week ended October 23, 10,000 less than the prior week's upwardly revised total and fewer than analysts had forecast.

It was the fourth straight week the closely watched indicator of labor market health had decreased and the third in which it had set a new low since Covid-19 broke out in March 2020, causing weekly claims to spike into the millions before receding but remaining high for the rest of the year.

Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said the data "confirms that a strong downward trend has reemerged" and with infections from Delta variant of Covid-19 dropping, he predicted it would continue to improve.

"As economic activity revives post-Delta, the bar for layoffs will rise even higher, and claims will head down towards, or even through, the lows seen before the pandemic, and payroll growth will re-accelerate," he said.

As of October 9, the latest week for which data was available, more than 2.8 million people were claiming unemployment benefits under all programs, almost 450,000 less than the week prior after the government's pandemic unemployment programs were cut off in September.

Another 2,532 claims, not seasonally adjusted, were filed last week under the expired Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, likely the result of states processing backlogged applications.

That was barely changed from the week prior.

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