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U.S. jobless claims fall to 712,000 but remain historically high

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The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week but remains historically high. About 712,000 people filed for jobless aid in the week ended March 6, a drop of 42,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Another 478,000 filed claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program for self-employed and gig workers.

"The trend in initial claims is now clearly falling, reversing the increase late last year when the Covid third wave hit," Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said in a note.

Still, the scale of jobless claims highlights the ongoing impact of the coronavirus on the labor market. Prior to the pandemic, claims hovered around 250,000 a week and never exceeded 700,000 even during the Great Recession. This week marks the 51st week of total jobless claims above 1 million.

"While the volume remains concerningly high, the trend, especially when it comes to state claims, is moving in the right direction," Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation, said in a statement.

The stimulus package Congress passed on Wednesday extends a $300 weekly boost in unemployment benefits through September.

More than 20 million Americans were receiving jobless aid of some sort as of late February, an increase of 2 million from the prior week.

This is a developing story.

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