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Unemployment claims in California rose slightly last week but remained below 100,000 for the second week in a row.

Workers across the state filed approximately 72,000 initial jobless claims during the week ending April 17, up about 3,000 from the 69,000 claims filed the previous week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.

The latest unemployment filings in California marked the sixth time during the last 57 weeks that jobless claims ran below 100,000. Government-ordered business shutdowns and restrictions began in mid-March 2020.

Nationwide, unemployment claims totaled 547,000 for the week ending on April 17, a decline of 39,000 from the 586,000 claims filed the week ending April 10.

Despite the hopeful signs in the layoff totals, the current level of jobless claims is still far above what was the typical weekly amount prior to the start of the business shutdowns.

During January and February of 2020, unemployment claims in California averaged 44,800 a week.

But during the four most recent weeks, jobless claims in California averaged 98,500 a week. That’s more than double the weekly pre-COVID average of early 2020.

U.S. trends

U.S. weekly jobless claims are down sharply from a peak of 900,000 in early January. At the same time, they’re still far above the roughly 250,000 level that prevailed before the viral outbreak ripped through the economy in March of last year.

About 17.4 million people were continuing to collect unemployment benefits in the week that ended April 3, the latest period for which data is available, up from 16.9 million in the previous week.

The overall job market is making steady gains. Last month, the nation’s employers adding 916,000 jobs, the most since August, in a sign that a sustained recovery is taking hold. The unemployment rate fell from 6.2% to 6%, well below the pandemic peak of nearly 15%.

Yet the still-high number of ongoing recipients shows that even as the economy has strengthened in recent weeks, millions of people — disproportionately low-income workers and people of color — continue to endure a loss of a job or income and have struggled to pay bills or rent.

The weekly data on applications for unemployment benefits is generally seen as a rough measure of layoffs because only people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own are eligible. But during the pandemic, the numbers have become a less reliable barometer.

Many states have struggled to clear backlogs of unemployment applications, and suspected fraud has clouded the actual volume of job cuts. In addition, a supplemental $300-a-week federal jobless payment, on top of regular state unemployment aid, might have encouraged more people to apply for benefits.

For now, the economy is showing steady signs of recovering. Sales at retail stores and restaurants soared 10% in March — the biggest increase since last May. Federal stimulus checks of $1,400 have been sent to most adults. And Americans who have kept their jobs have accumulated additional savings, part of which they will likely spend now that states and cities have loosened business restrictions and the virus wanes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.