New Unemployment Claims Slip - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

New Unemployment Claims Slip

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, third drop in the past four weeks and a sign the job market is slowly improving.

Weekly claims dipped 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 420,000 the week ended Dec. 11, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure, fell for a sixth week, to 422,750. That's the lowest since August 2008, just before the financial crisis intensified with the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Weekly first-time applications below 425,000 tend to signal modest job growth. But economists say applications would need to dip consistently to 375,000 or less to indicate a significant decline in unemployment. Applications for unemployment benefits peaked during the recession at 651,000 in March 2009.

Claims have been steadily declining the past two months, raising hopes that layoffs are falling and employers are hiring.

"The trend is unmistakably better, and this echoes good news from other leading indicators," Jonathan Basile, an economist at Credit Suisse, wrote in a note to clients.

Another report Thursday said housing starts rose slightly in November after two months of declines. Builders broke ground on a seasonally adjusted 555,000 units, a 3.9% rise from October, the Commerce Department said.

Even with the gain, housing starts are just 16% above the 477,000 unit pace from April 2009 — lowest point on records dating back to 1959. They are also down 76% from their peak in January 2006, and 45% below the 1 million annual rate that analysts say is consistent with a healthy housing market.

Commerce also said Thursday that Americans are buying more imported goods. The widest measure of the trade deficit rose 3.3% in the July-September quarter. Consumer demand for clothing, footwear and household appliances boosted imports. That was the fifth quarterly increase and could be viewed as a hopeful sign that Americans are confident enough in the economy that they are willing to spend.

The reports cap a strong week for the economy that has many thinking 2011 will be a better year than previously thought. Factories are producing more, retail sales are rising, business executives and consumers are increasingly optimistic. And Congress is on the cusp of passing a package of tax cuts and an extension of emergency unemployment benefits that would give businesses and consumers more money to spend.

Still, hiring hasn't picked up. Earlier this month, the government issued a disappointing jobs report that showed employers added only 39,000 net jobs in November and the unemployment rate rose to 9.8%.

The number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits rose 22,000 to 4.14 million, the department said. But that doesn't include another 4.8 million people receiving extended benefits under an emergency program paid for by the federal government.

The extended aid can last up to 99 weeks in states with high unemployment. That program lapsed Nov. 30 but would be continued through next year as part of the compromise on taxes between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans. That compromise measure is currently before the House after being approved by the Senate.

Some companies are still cutting jobs. Yahoo said Tuesday that it is laying off 600 employees, or 4% of its work force.

 

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