Initial Jobless Claims Beat Expectations

New claims for unemployment benefits continued to decline last week, holding close to four-year lows, according to a Labor Department report on Thursday. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell by another 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 351,000 in the week ended February 25. The prior week’s figure was revised up to 353,000 from the previously reported 351,000.

The four-week moving average for new claims, considered to be a more accurate gauge of employment trends, dropped 5,500 to 354,000 — the lowest since March 2008. New applications have declined through much of February, raising hopes or a third straight month of solid employment gains and a further drop in the national unemployment rate, which has declined from 9.1 percent in August to 8.3 percent in January.

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Nonfarm employment is expected to have increased roughly 2oo,000 last month, according to a Reuters survey, after rising 243,000 in January. Economists see the unemployment rate holding steady at a three-year low of 8.3 percent in February. The government will release its employment report for the month of February on March 9.

Despite notable progress, the level of unemployment in the U.S. is still 5.82 million above its pre-recession level. In giving testimony before Congress on Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke described the labor market as “far from normal” and said the economy needs to be stronger if positive employment trends are to continue.

The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell to 3.40 million in the week ended February 18, down 2,000 from the previous week. Continued claims have declined 165,000 between the January and February survey periods.

The number of Americans on emergency unemployment benefits rose 1,347 to 2.90 million in the week ended February 11, the latest week for which the information is available. A total of 7.50 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs, up 11,933 from the previous week.

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