First-time claims for unemployment benefits showed an unexpected decrease in the week ended March 17th, according to a report released by the Labor Department on Thursday, with claims falling to their lowest level in four years.
The report showed that initial jobless claims fell to 348,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 353,000. The drop surprised economists, who had expected jobless claims to edge up to 352,000 from the 351,000 originally reported for the previous week.
With the unexpected decrease, jobless claims fell to their lowest level since coming in at 347,000 in the week ended March 8, 2008.
Peter Boockvar, managing director at Miller Tabak, said, "Bottom line, the lowest amount of initial claim filers since March 2008 is encouraging, as we've a certain improvement in the labor market."
"Seasonally speaking though, the mild winter impacted seasonal hiring's and firings and thus throughout April and May we'll see how much of the slowdown in job layoffs and improvement in job hiring's was a pull forward," he added.
The Labor Department also said its four-week moving average, which eliminates some of the week-to-week volatility, edged down to 355,000 from the previous week's revised average of 356,250.
Continuing claims, a reading on the number of people receiving ongoing unemployment assistance, also dipped to 3.352 million in the week ended March 10th from the preceding week's revised level of 3.361 million.
With the drop, continuing claims fell for the second consecutive week, falling to their lowest level since August of 2008.
The data adds to recent signs of a recovery in the U.S. labor market, which has seen a notable improvement over the past few months.
Earlier this month, the Labor Department released a separate report showing that the U.S. economy added 227,000 jobs in February, with an increase of 233,000 jobs in the private sector more than offsetting job losses in the public sector.
Additionally, the January spike in job creation was revised up to 284,000 from the 243,000 initially reported, while December's job growth figures were revised up to 223,000 from 203,000.
The job growth, however, was not strong enough to bring down the unemployment rate, which held steady at 8.3 percent in February, in line with economist estimates.
by RTT Staff Writer
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