N.D. – New weekly unemployment claims in North Dakota declined last week compared with the week prior, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday.

New claims, a proxy for layoffs, dropped to 1,970 in the week ending April 17, down from 2,047 the week before, the labor department said.

Last year at this time, there were 8,065 new claims in North Dakota as businesses laid off and furloughed their employees in the early days of the pandemic.

U.S. unemployment claims dropped to 547,000 last week, down 39,000 claims from 586,000 the week prior on a seasonally adjusted basis.

New claims have dropped to their lowest level since before the pandemic, a positive sign for the country’s economic recovery. Last Thursday’s report also showed U.S. jobless claims dropping to their lowest level since before the pandemic, and economists expected jobless claims to creep back up last week. That didn’t happen.

New U.S. claims peaked in the pandemic in early April with more than six million claims on a seasonally adjusted basis. Claims have slowly fallen since then, and now the four-week moving average is 651,000 claims as COVID-19 cases have dropped and states have loosened restrictions on businesses.

AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, called Thursday’s report “encouraging.”

“There’s still more improvement needed but we’re clearly moving in the right direction,” she said.

But it’s not all good news. New jobless claims are still on par with some of the worst weeks of the 2009 recession. New claims peaked then in late March 2009 at 665,000.

Virginia saw the largest percentage increase in weekly claims, with claims jumping by 195.3%. Texas, meanwhile, saw the largest percentage drop in new claims, with claims dropping by 35.1%.