Weekly claims for unemployment benefits finally fell below their pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the Labor Department. Last week’s jobless claims totaled 199,000 when adjusted for seasonal swings, the lowest level since November 15, 1969. Benefit claims jumped into the millions in March 2020 as the pandemic caused the US economy to shutter. Over the 20 months since then, claims have edged down more or less continuously. They hit a peak of 6.15 million in the week of April 4, 2020. It took until last week for claims to finally fall below their pre-pandemic levels of around 200,000. “Layoffs are hitting new lows amid ongoing labor shortages as employers look to hold onto hard-to-find workers,” wrote Glassdoor Senior Economist Daniel Zhao in a tweet. The struggle to find staff has been a key characteristic of the pandemic economy. Demand for workers is high, but the labor force participation rate has slipped. For workers, it means more choice: In September the number of people voluntarily quitting their jobs rose to record high 4.4 million. That said, the dramatic drop in last week’s claims likely overstates just how good things are in the labor market right now, said PNC chief economist Gus Faucher. “Although the plunge in UI claims was certainly welcome, it does not indicate a dramatic turn in the labor market. Claims are highly volatile, especially around holidays,” he said in a note to clients. Without the seasonal adjustments, however, claims actually rose to 258,622 last week, more than 18,000 claims higher than in the week before. Continued jobless claims, which count workers who have filed for benefits for at least two consecutive weeks, stood at around 2 million in the week ended November 13, down 60,000 from the prior week. Overall, 2.4 million Americans received government benefits under various programs in the week ended November 6, down from 3.2 million at the end of October.