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New jobless claims drop for first time in 4 weeks

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By Chritopher S. Rugaber

WASHINGTON (AP) — New requests for unemployment benefits fell sharply last week, the first decline in a month and a hopeful sign after a raft of negative economic reports.

New claims for jobless aid dropped by 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 473,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Still, claims remain much higher than they would be in a healthy economy. Employers are reluctant to hire as economic growth appears to be slowing.

The drop comes after a steep rise the previous three weeks that sent claims to their highest level in nine months. Those increases raised fears that businesses were starting to layoff more workers.

Wall Street economists had expected a smaller drop, according to surveys by Thomson Reuters. Stock futures rose immediately after the report's release.

Even with last week's decline, the four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to 486,750, the most since November 2009.

The department also said the total unemployment benefit rolls climbing steeply, as more people join extended unemployment aid programs that were renewed last month by Congress. During the recession, Congress added up to 73 weeks of emergency aid on top of the 26 weeks typically provided by the states.


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