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First-time jobless claims decline slightly last week

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By Chritopher S. Rugaber

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of newly laid-off workers requesting unemployment benefits slipped last week, the latest sign the employment picture is slowly brightening.

The Labor Department said initial jobless claims fell by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 462,000. That's close to Wall Street analysts' estimates of 460,000, according to Thomson Reuters, and the second straight drop.

Still, the four-week average of claims, which smooths volatility, rose to 475,500, reflecting a sharp increase in claims last month.

The four-week average has risen by about 25,000 since the beginning of the year, after falling for most of last year. The increase has raised concerns among economists that layoffs haven't slowed as much as hoped.

But February's employment report, released by the Labor Department last week, restored some optimism. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 9.7 percent, the same as January, and employers cut 36,000 jobs. Excluding the impact of the snowstorms that hit the East Coast last month, the report likely would have shown job gains, economists said, for only the second time since the Great Recession began in December 2007. The unemployment rate hasn't increased since October.

Initial claims are considered a gauge of the pace of layoffs and an indication of companies' willingness to hire new workers.


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