“In the week ending February 27, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 745,000, an increase of 9,000 from the previous week’s revised level,” the department said in a news release.

The number was slightly smaller than the 750,000 filings forecast for last week by economists surveyed by US media. Yet, one year into the COVID-19 crisis, the data shows that fixing the job market remains a herculean challenge.

“The claims number is still well above pre-pandemic levels,” Greg Michalowski said in a post on ForexLive, citing the 281,000 filings from the week ended March 15, 2020, before the numbers exploded with the outbreak of COVID-19.

The Labor Department said that continuing weekly claims — reported with a one-week lag but sometimes considered a better gauge of the labor market — slid to 4.29 million for the week ended February 27, from a previous 4.42 million. The unemployment rate also dipped slightly, by 0.1 percentage point, to 3.0 percent.

The United States lost more than 21 million jobs between March and April, at the height of business lockdowns forced by the coronavirus. At least 10 million of those jobs have not returned, data shows.

The US economy itself shrank 3.5 percent in 2020, after a 2.2 percent growth in 2019.

The Labor Department’s full employment statistics for February will be published on Friday. Economists are expecting a jobs growth of 182,000 last month after January’s expansion of 49,000.