The number of Americans applying for state unemployment benefits unexpectedly dropped last week, falling below 800,000 for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the nation's economy in mid-March.

The latest jobless claims figures from the Labor Department, which cover the week ending Oct. 17, show that 787,000 workers sought aid last week, about four-times the pre-crisis level. Close to 65 million Americans -- roughly 40% of the nation's labor force -- have sought jobless aid since the coronavirus lockdowns began in mid-March.

Jobless claims have not been this low since the week ending March 14, when 282,000 Americans filed for aid, shortly before the virus-induced crisis triggered a flood of layoffs.

Economists surveyed by Refinitiv expected 860,000 new claims.

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The number of people who are continuing to receive unemployment benefits fell to 8.37 million, a decline of about 1 million from the previous week. The decline suggests that employers are calling their workers back.

Still, some of the declines in so-called continuing claims may represent workers who have used up the maximum number of payments available through state unemployment programs (typically about six months) and are now receiving benefits through a separate federal program that extends the aid by 13 weeks. Congress created the extra federal benefits earlier this year with the passage of the CARES Act. Read more at FOX News