The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits rose slightly last week even as coronavirus caseloads drop nationwide and many states ease restrictions on business activity.

Figures released Thursday by the Labor Department show that 745,000 Americans filed first-time jobless claims in the week ended Feb. 27, slightly lower than the 750,000 forecast by Refinitiv economists. Last week's figure was revised up from 730,000 to 736,000.

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Weekly jobless claims have remained stubbornly high for months, hovering around four times the typical pre-crisis level, although it's well below the peak of almost 7 million that was reached when stay-at-home orders were first issued in March.

There are roughly 10 million fewer jobs than there were last year in February, before the crisis began.

Continuing claims, or the number of Americans who are consecutively receiving unemployment aid, fell to 4.29 million, a decline of 124,000 from the previous week. The report shows that roughly 18 million Americans were collecting jobless benefits for the week ending Feb. 13, a decline of about 1 million from the previous week.

"Although we can almost taste improvement in the economy likely coming, we’re not there yet as we look at the latest claims numbers," said Mark Hamrick, chief economist. "Both the headline number covering traditional state programs and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program totals were on the rise. The total number of individuals on some form of unemployment assistance remains massive."