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WASHINGTON: In a milestone in the US economy's recovery from the pandemic, the government said Wednesday new claims for unemployment benefits have fallen below their level before Covid-19 struck and caused mass layoffs.

The Labor Department said 199,000 new filings for aid were made in the week ending November 20, taking the closely watched indicator of labor market health significantly below where it was on March 14, 2020, the last week before unemployment surged as the virus spread.

That was also its lowest level since November 1969, according to the data, which was much less than analysts' forecasts and a drop of 71,000 from the week prior.

Weekly unemployment aid claims spiked into the millions as US businesses laid off workers in droves last year after governments ordered restrictions to stop the virus' spread.

US jobless claims drop for fifth straight week

They started falling throughout 2020 but remained elevated before dropping substantially this year as vaccines allowed for widespread rehiring.

Economist Mohamed El-Erian called the report "good news for the economy," but noted it is unclear whether it's a sign that the many people who have decided not to return to work have changed their mind.

"The big question for the labor market remains the scope for increasing labor force participation," he said on Twitter.

As of November 6, more than 2.4 million people were receiving jobless aid under all programs, the data said, just over 750,000 less than the week prior.

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