Initial Jobless Claims Slip for Fifth Consecutive Week

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initial claims for unemployment benefits in March slipped to 439,000Amid concerns about a jobless economic recovery, initial claims for unemployment benefits in March slipped to 439,000, marking their fifth consecutive weekly decline, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The number came in slightly better than the consensus estimate of economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters, who expected new jobless claims to drop to 440,000.

For the week ending March 27, the initial jobless claims fell 6,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 445,000. (That week's figure was revised up from 442,000.)

The news buoyed stock futures, which edged up in pre-market trading.

The good news didn't end with the Department of Labor, either. Separately, Challenger Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consultancy firm, said layoffs may have increased in March, but the number of planned job cuts declined dramatically from the same month last year. Employers announced 67,611 planned job cuts in March 2010, up from 42,090 in February. But for the full quarter, the total number of layoffs was 181,183, down 69% from the 578,510 job cuts announced in the first quarter of 2009, according to the Challenger report.

The somewhat encouraging jobless claims report comes on the heels of disappointing private sector jobs numbers published on Wednesday. Payroll services provider ADP said the private sector shed 23,000 jobs in March; analysts had predicted 40,000 new jobs would be created during the month.

In another discouraging episode, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner suggested Thursday that unemployment will remain a long-term problem, adding that the administration is "very worried" about recovering the more than 8 million jobs lost in the recession.

"The unemployment rate is still terribly high and it's going to stay unacceptably high for a long period of time," Geithner said during an interview on the Today Show.

Although the U.S. unemployment rate is indeed high at 9.7%, it's still nowhere near the jobless levels the country saw during the Great Depression, when unemployment hit 25%.

The Federal Reserve has signaled that interest rates will be kept low until an economic recovery is under way or until the unemployment rate improves.
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