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New jobless claims decline, but miss expectations

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By Chritopher S. Rugaber

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of newly laid-off workers claiming unemployment benefits fell less than expected last week, fresh evidence the job market remains a weak spot in the economic recovery.

The Labor Department said Thursday that first-time jobless claims dropped by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 470,000. Analysts had expected a steeper drop to 450,000, according to Thomson Reuters.

The four week average, which smooths out volatility, rose for the second straight week to 456,250. The average had fallen for 19 straight weeks before starting to rise. That decline had given some analysts hope the economy would soon generate net job gains.

Two weeks ago, claims surged by 34,000 due to administrative backlogs left over from the holidays in the state agencies that process the claims, a Labor Department analyst said. Those delays may still be affecting the data, the analyst said.

That means the current figures could be artificially inflated. At the same time, it would also mean that the steep drop in claims in late December and early January was also exaggerated by the backlogs.

Economists closely watch initial claims, which are considered a gauge of the pace of layoffs and an indication of companies' willingness to hire new workers.


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