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story.lead_photo.caption People wait in line, resumes in hand, while waiting to apply for jobs during an outdoor hiring event for the Circa resort and casino, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Las Vegas. The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped by 13,000 last week to 553,000, the lowest level since the pandemic hit last March and another sign the economy is recovering from the coronavirus recession. (AP Photo/John Locher)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped by 13,000 last week to 553,000, the lowest level since the pandemic hit last March and another sign the economy is recovering from the coronavirus recession.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that jobless claims were down from 566,000 a week earlier. They have fallen sharply over the past year but remain well above the 230,000 weekly figure typical before the pandemic struck the economy in March 2020.

The four-week moving average, which smooths out weekly gyrations, fell 44,000 to 611,750.

Nearly 3.7 million people were receiving traditional state unemployment benefits the week of April 17. Including federal programs designed to ease economic pain from the health crisis, 16.6 million were receiving some type of jobless aid the week of April 10.

"Layoffs are elevated but are gradually easing, consistent with an economy that is reopening," said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. "We expect further declines in filings as businesses move closer towards normal capacity which will boost job growth over coming months."

Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs, and economists have long viewed them as an early indicator of where the job market and the economy are headed. But the figures have become less reliable in recent months as states struggle to clear backlogs of applications and suspected fraud muddies the actual volume of claims.

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