New U.S. jobless claims break below 500K

New applications for U.S. jobless benefits dropped below the 500,000 mark for the first time since the health crisis pushed millions out of work last March.

Data released Thursday by the Labor Department showed a steeper-than-expected drop in jobless claims last week to 498,000.

The steady decline points to a labor market recovery that's gathering steam as the vaccination role out encourages companies to put out the hiring sign and the improving health situation prompts many Americans to go back to work.

First-time jobless claims have tumbled from a record peak of more than 6 million last April but are still well above the range that point to a healthy labor market.

Another report on Thursday showed job cut announcements made by U.S. companies tumbled 25 percent in April to a 21-year low. Planned layoffs are down 84 percent compared to the same time last year, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

A fuller snapshot of the labor market comes on Friday with the release of official government hiring and unemployment figures.

Economists in a Reuters survey predict payrolls likely increased by 978,000 in April, with some forecasts going much higher, predicting the number could even top an eye-popping one million new jobs.

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