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WASHINGTON — The number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits dropped last week, a sign the job market is healing as the economy slowly recovers.
New jobless claims have dropped steadily since September, raising hopes that the economy may soon begin creating jobs and the unemployment rate could decline. That, in turn, would give households more money to spend and add fuel to the broader economic rebound that began earlier this year.
The Labor Department said Thursday that new claims for unemployment insurance fell by 22,000 to a seasonally adjusted 432,000, the lowest since July 2008. That’s much better than the rise to 460,000 that Wall Street economists expected.
The four-week average, which smooths fluctuations, fell for the 17th straight week to 460,250, the lowest since September 2008, when the financial crisis intensified. The crisis led to widespread mass layoffs, which sent jobless claims to as high as 674,000 last spring.
Analysts cautioned that the weekly data could be artificially low due to seasonal factors, such as the Christmas holiday and recent snowstorms.
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