The number of initial unemployment claims in the U.S. has fallen for a second week in a row to the lowest level since the start of the COVID pandemic, the Department of Labor reported on Thursday. 

The number of initial jobless claims was 293,000, below the Dow Jones estimate of 318,000 and 36,000 less than the previous week

This is the first time initial claims fell below 300,000 since the COVID-19 pandemic shot unemployment claims into the millions. Before the virus began tearing a path across the economy, the number of initial unemployment claims was 256,000 for March 14, 2020. 

The latest numbers add more weight to the idea that the U.S. labor market is adjusting to the end of federal unemployment benefits on Labor Day. After they ended on Sept. 6, initial claims for unemployment rose and they continued to do so throughout September before falling for the week ending Sept. 25.

Last week’s initial claims, while breaking what was a three-week trend of rising claims, had its number revised slightly from 326,000 to 329,000. 

In terms of continuing claims, which are for the preceding week of Sept. 25, the figure fell 523,426 to 3,649,013.

These numbers arrive as policymakers begin to become more focused on the dangers from rising inflation. The latest Consumer Price Index showed prices for goods, particularly food, rent and energy, rose as year-on-year inflation was 5.4%, the highest since January 1991. 

It follows a weaker-than-anticipated jobs report for September that has prompted concerns that the economic recovery may be slowing. 

The Federal Reserve, however, appeared unphased by the poor jobs numbers as it inches closer to a tapering of its $120 billion per month asset purchase program that began during the pandemic.

Fed officials, including Chairman Jerome Powell, have voiced concerns about inflation but they maintain a position that it is transitory and will ease once global supply chain bottlenecks are reduced.