WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell for the seventh straight week to a pandemic low 268,000. U.S. jobless claims dipped by 1,000 last week from the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The applications for unemployment aid are a proxy for layoffs, and their steady decline this year — after topping 900,000 one week in early January — reflects the labor market’s strong recovery from last year’s brief but intense coronavirus recession. The four-week average of claims, which smooths week-to-week volatility, also fell to a pandemic low just below 273,000.  Jobless claims have been edging lower, toward their pre-pandemic level of around 220,000 a week.

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