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After months of hit-or-miss progress on weekly unemployment claims in the early part of the year, CNBC reported this morning on the newest data from the Labor Department, which offers the best news on layoffs we’ve seen in quite a while.

First-time filings for unemployment claims in the U.S. dropped to 310,000 last week, easily the lowest of the Covid era and a significant step toward the pre-pandemic normal, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Claims had been expected to total 335,000 for the week ended Sept. 4, according to economists surveyed by Dow Jones.

Circling back to our recent coverage, it was in March 2020 when jobless claims first spiked in response to the Covid-19 crisis, climbing to over 3 million. That weekly total soon after reached nearly 7 million as the economy cratered. For 55 consecutive weeks, the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits was worse than at any time during the Great Recession.

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All of that appears to be behind us. Looking at today’s report, we haven’t seen data this good since before the pandemic began in earnest. Last week’s figures were encouraging, but given the sharp improvement, today’s new data is significantly better.

To be sure, it’d be a mistake to see 310,000 jobless claims as good news on its own. In fact, under normal circumstances, this would be an awful total. In the early months of 2020, for example, the U.S. average on unemployment claims was roughly 211,000 — well below the total from today’s report.

But given what Americans have been dealing with throughout the pandemic, these new figures are worth feeling good about. A return to a “normal” number of first-time claims, which seemed difficult to even imagine in the recent past, now appears to be in sight.

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