By Natalie DeCoste

New U.S. jobless claims have fallen again, continuing a positive downward trend and signaling increasing strength in the labor market.

For the week ending May 22, the Department of Labor reported that seasonally adjusted initial claims for joblessness came in at 406,000. This figure is a decrease of 38,000 from the previous week’s unrevised number of 444,000.

According to the Department of Labor, those are the lowest numbers for initial claims since March 14, 2020, when it was 256,000. This is also the fourth consecutive week that jobless claims have hit a pandemic record low.

The report was slightly disappointing for economists surveyed by Dow Jones, who were looking for 425,000 initial jobless claims.

The report from the Department of Labor also relayed that the advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 2.6 % for the week ending May 15. This is a decrease of 0.1 percentage point from the previous week’s unrevised rate. The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the same week was 3,642,000, a decrease of 96,000 from the previous week’s revised level.

“I think there’s still a lot of pain out there, but the good news is that it really looks like the economy is kicking into overdrive, and I do see positive signs for the job market,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global Ratings.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department indicated in a separate report that its initial estimate on first-quarter gross domestic product remained unchanged at 6.4%.

The department’s report on durable goods revealed that orders for durable goods, which are items designed to last at least three years, fell 1.3% in April. The dip was unexpected as the initial forecast for the category was for a 0.9% gain

Jobless claims and general economic uncertainty have been a standard for the pandemic, although recent months have seen some positive trends

“Many of the factors that sidelined workers earlier in the recovery are changing to contribute to fast job gains in the rest of 2021. The pandemic is coming under control in the U.S., assuaging health fears,” wrote PNC senior economist Bill Adams.

Despite an improving economy, there are still many unemployed Americans. As of early May, nearly 16 million Americans were continuing to claim unemployment benefits through various government programs, including special ones designed to support workers through the pandemic. Some lawmakers have raised concerns that the additional benefits may be hindering employers’ ability to attract new workers.