Unemployment claims trend lower, but remain high
Applications for unemployment benefits have fallen to a six-month low, according to a four-week averaged calculated by the government. Some economists say the steady decline signals fewer layoffs and possibly stronger job growth in the months ahead, but caution that employers are not yet hiring at optimal levels. Weekly applications dropped by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 403,000, the Labor Department reports today. The four-week average fell for the fourth straight week to 403,000; a month ago it was 422,250. Many economists say applications need to fall consistently below 375,000 to signal sustainable job growth. They haven't been below that level since February. All told, 6.7 million people received benefits in the week that ended Oct. 1, the latest data available. Economists have been closely watching unemployment benefit applications since fears of another recession intensified this summer. Layoffs and applications for jobless benefits tend to rise at the beginning of recessions. Employers have added an average of only 72,000 jobs per month in the past five months. That's far below the 100,000 per month needed to keep up with population growth. And it's down from an average of 180,000 in the first four months of this year. In September, employers added only 103,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate remained 9.1% for a third straight month.
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