U.S. Jobless Claims Fall for Third Straight Week

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Initial jobless claims fell for the third straight week, dipping by 5,000 to 457,000 for the week ending March 13, the U.S. Labor Department announced Thursday. It was an encouraging sign for the job market, following a lull earlier in the year when jobless claims skewed higher, partly due to severe winter weather.

A Bloomberg News economists' survey had expected jobless claims to total 455,000.

In addition, the four-week moving average decreased 4,250 to 471,250, while continuing claims inched 12,000 higher to 4.579 million. A year ago, initial jobless claims totaled 644,000, the four-week moving average was at 650,000, and continuing claims totaled 5.428 million.

Economists view the four-week average as a better indicator of unemployment conditions, as it smooths-out anomalies for strikes, holidays or other idiosyncratic events.

Economists also monitor the continuing claims stat because it provides a snapshot of how long it's going to take the typical person to find comparable employment once he has sustained a job loss. In general, continuing claims above 3 million reflect a slack labor market, and point to extended six-to-nine month (or longer) job searches.

Also, states reported 5.89 million persons claiming Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits for the week ending February 27, the latest week for which data is available, an increase of 360,123 from the prior week. A year ago, there were 2.09 million EUC claimants.

Job Market: Healing Gradually

After a lull this winter, the downward trend in initial jobless claims appears to have resumed with a simultaneous decline in the more-telling four-week moving average. Some of the rise in claims in the prior two months was due to irregular events that interrupted commerce, such as the two blizzards that hit the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. Even so, the U.S. economy still reveals a job market that is healing gradually, and that's consistent with the consensus job growth forecast that calls for the economy to create about 100,000 jobs per month in 2010.

To be sure, the economy needs to create many more jobs than that to lower the U.S. unemployment rate -- healthy monthly job growth is about 200,000 per month -- and this fact only underscores the enormous task ahead for policy makers and business executives alike. In the past six months, lay-offs have declined substantially; now, hiring must resume for unemployment to decline.

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