This May 7, 2020, file photo shows a man wearing a mask while walking under a Now Hiring sign at a CVS Pharmacy during the coronavirus outbreak in San Francisco. On Thursday, Nov. 12, the number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to 709,000, the fourth straight drop and a sign that the job market is slowly healing. Credit: Jeff Chiu / AP

Applications for U.S. state unemployment benefits fell by the most in five weeks, signaling the gradual improvement in the labor market is continuing despite a record surge in COVID-19 infections.

Initial jobless claims in regular state programs totaled 709,000 in the week ended Nov. 7, down 48,000 from the prior week, Labor Department data showed Thursday. On an unadjusted basis, the figure decreased by about 21,000.

Continuing claims — the total number of Americans claiming state unemployment assistance for multiple weeks — fell by 436,000 to 6.79 million in the week ended Oct. 31. But the number of people claiming support in programs offering extended assistance increased as more Americans exhausted their regular state benefits.

Economists had projected 731,000 initial claims and 6.83 million continuing claims, according to the median estimates in Bloomberg surveys.

Story by Olivia Rockeman

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