New York CNN Business  — 

America’s jobs recovery didn’t lose steam in the new year with a key measure of jobless claims dropping to its lowest level since March 1970, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Continuing claims for unemployment benefits, which count people who have filed for jobless aid for at least two weeks in a row, dropped to just below 1.5 million in the week ending February 12, adjusted for seasonal swings, marking the lowest level since the week of March 14, 1970. It was also a lower level than economists had predicted.

The average number of continuing claims over the past four weeks declined to just below 1.6 million, marking the lowest level since the week of June 30, 1973.

Last week’s initial jobless claims stood at 232,000, adjusted for seasonality, broadly in line with expectations. Without seasonal adjustments the number of claims was even lower last week, at just below 215,000.

Jobless claims spiked during the onslaught of Covid cases caused by the Omicron variant at the start of the year, but have been on a downward trend again recently.

“The trends in the labor market are intact,” said Thomas Simons, money market economist at Jefferies, in a note to clients.

“Demand for labor remains strong, job openings are plentiful, and deviations from trend in the claims data are nothing to get too worried about. Claims will continue to grind lower, but it won’t happen in a straight line every week,” he added.

That said, the US labor market is still not back to its pre-pandemic strength. Even though most of the Covid-induced job losses have been recovered by now, the nation was still short 2.9 million jobs as of January compared with February 2020.

The government’s next look at the employment situation is due next Friday. Economists predict 381,000 jobs were added in February, down from 467,000 in the month prior. January job gains far outpaced forecasts as economists believed the Omicron wave would have slowed the pace of the labor market recovery more than it actually did.