The numbers: The number of Americans who recently lost jobs and applied for unemployment benefits fell in late-October to a fresh pandemic low as companies eschew layoffs and seek to hire more workers.

New jobless claims fell to 281,000 in the week ending Oct. 23, the lowest since March of last year, from a revised 291,000 in the week prior.

Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal had predicted new claims would decline to a seasonally adjusted 289,000.

Big picture: U.S. companies large and small have reported difficulty finding workers for open positions, as the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a wave of retirements and made finding affordable child care difficult for many Americans. Some economists say that increased federal spending on social programs including stimulus payments and the child tax credit have reduced the need for some Americans to work.

The jobs market has recovered at a rapid clip over the past 18 months, with the unemployment rate falling from a high of 14.8% in April of 2020 to 4.8% as of the Labor Department’s most recent reading earlier this month.

A broader measure of unemployment, which includes people who want jobs but have given up looking for work and those who are working part time but want full-time jobs has fallen from 22.9% in April of last year to 8.5% today.

Still, there are more than 3 million fewer workers in the labor force today than at its pre-pandemic peak in December of 2019, as many Americans have retired early aimd the pandemic, while others have left to care for children or other family members.

Key details: New jobless claims fell the most in California where 7,843 fewer workers applied for benefits. Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas also saw big declines, on an unadjusted benefits.

Claims spiked in the District of Columbia, where 3,092 more workers submitted unemployment claims and in Kentucky, Missouri and Virginia.

What are they saying? Economists Thomas Simons and Aneta Markowska of Jefferies noted that claims for existing jobless benefits also fell sharply to 2.243 million from 2.480 million, also the lowest since March.

 “It is remarkable how fast continuing claims have come down since the beginning of the year, which should bode well as a sign that people are heading back to work,” they wrote.

Market reaction: U.S. stocks were moving higher Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 Index each up about 0.5%.