New unemployment claims hit pandemic-era low

In the clearest sign of an economy that's recovering, new U.S. applications for unemployment benefits dropped to their lowest since the health crisis put millions out of work last year.

Jobless claims dropped more than expected last week to 684,000, according to data released Thursday by the Labor Department.

Workers are being put back to work as local economies reopen thanks to the vaccine rollout, warmer temperatures, and as companies anticipate the benefits of the $1.9 trillion shot in the arm by way of President Biden's economic stimulus package.

The data support the optimistic tone struck by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell during their congressional testimonies this week.

"It is going to be a very, very strong year, in the most likely case. There are of course risks to the upside and downside, but it should be a strong year from a growth standpoint."

But the economy still has a long way to go to absorb those kicked off the payroll during the past year.

As of the beginning of March, there were nearly 19 million Americans receiving some sort of government jobless assistance.

Some economists warn it could take years for the labor market to fully recover.