New US jobless claims drop below 700,000 for 1st time since pandemic began

New filings for regular unemployment benefits in the United States dropped to 684,000 last week, the government says, their first reading below 700,000 since the pandemic sparked mass layoffs.

The result is much better than analysts forecast and comes as COVID-19 vaccinations offer hope the economy can recover this year — but in a sign of the virus’s ongoing toll, 241,745 new claims were received in the week ended March 20 under a special program for freelance workers, the Labor Department says.