The number of Americans applying to unemployment benefits dropped to its lowest point since the pandemic. This is a sign that the job market is improving, even though hiring has slowed over the past two months.

According to the Labor Department, unemployment claims fell by 36,000 to 293,000, the second consecutive drop. This is the lowest number of people who have applied for benefits since March 14, 2020 when the pandemic grew, and it’s also the first time that claims have fallen below 300,000. As many businesses struggle to fill their jobs, applications for jobless assistance, which usually tracks the pace of layoffs have declined steadily since last spring.

This is despite a very unusual job market. The hiring process has been slowing in the last two months, despite employers and companies posting a record number of jobs. As three million people have lost their jobs or stopped looking for work after the pandemic, businesses are having difficulty finding workers. Economists expected more people to find work in September, as schools reopened and child care restrictions were eased.

The pickup did not occur, as employers added only 194,000 jobs in the last month. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.8%, from 5.2%. However, some of that decrease was due to the fact that many people who were out of work stopped looking for jobs and were no longer considered unemployed. In September, the proportion of women looking for work or working fell due to difficulties in finding child care or disruptions at schools by COVID-19.

In August, about 3% of Americans quit their jobs. Fear of the delta variant COVID-19, which is still rapidly spreading in August, has led workers to be more likely to quit their jobs in bars and restaurants than at hotels.

Others will likely leave to take advantage the higher wages offered by open jobs. The average hourly wage rose by 4.6% in September compared to a year ago. For restaurant workers, wages have increased by more than 10% in the past year.

Two programs that provide emergency assistance for jobless people have been ended, so the number of people still receiving unemployment aid has dropped sharply. The latest data shows that 3.6 million people were given some type of jobless assistance in the week ended Sept. 25, a sharp drop from the previous week’s 4.2 million. Nearly 25 million people received benefits a year ago.

The first ever unemployment payments were made to self-employed workers and gig workers who had been out of work for over six months. These two programs ended Sept. 6, and more than 7 million Americans lost weekly financial assistance. That week, an additional $300 in federal jobless assistance was also canceled.

Republican politicians and business leaders claimed that the $300 extra was discouraging people out of work from getting jobs. The additional checks were stopped in half of the states by mid-June. These states have seen slower job growth than those that retained the benefits.