WASHINGTON Feb 14 The number of Americans
filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than
expected last week, pointing to a continued steady improvement
in labor market conditions.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped
27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 341,000, the Labor Department
said on Thursday. The prior week's claims figure was revised to
show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected claims to fall to
A Labor Department analyst said claims for Illinois and
snowstorm-hit Connecticut had been estimated. Nevertheless,
because most claims are filed online, the blizzard that slammed
the East Coast appeared to have little effect on the broader
claims data, he said.
While companies are no longer aggressively laying off
workers, they appear to be in no hurry to step-up hiring against
the backdrop of still lackluster demand.
The economy has struggled to grow much more than 2 percent
since the 2007-09 recession ended.
Job gains averaged 181,000 per month in 2012, far less than
the at least 250,000 that economists say is needed to
significantly reduce the ranks of unemployed.
The four-week moving average for new claims, a better
measure of labor market trends, rose 1,500 to 352,500. The prior
week's drop to a near five-year low was probably exaggerated by
difficulties at the start of the year smoothing out the data for
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular
state programs after an initial week of aid dropped 130,000 to
3.11 million in the week ended Feb. 2. That was the lowest level
since July 2008 and could reflect people exhausting their
So-called continuing claims had hovered around 3.2 million
since late November and economists had viewed that as an
indication of little change in the unemployment rate. The
jobless rate rose 0.1 percentage point to 7.9 percent in