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Dow Jones News WASHINGTON, 140113--The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for unemployment benefits fell significantly last ...


Dow Jones News

WASHINGTON, 140113--The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for unemployment benefits fell significantly last week, the latest signal that the labor market is improving.
Initial jobless claims, a measure of layoffs, decreased by 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 341,000 in the week ended Feb. 9, the Labor Department said Thursday.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast 360,000 new applications for jobless benefits last week. Claims for the prior week were revised up to 368,000 from an initial estimate of 366,000
The four-week moving average of claims, which smoothes out week-to-week volatility, advanced by 1,500 to 352,500. Despite the slight rise last week, the average level remained near a five-year low. 
A Labor Department analyst said figures were estimated for Illinois and Connecticut, the later due the recent snow storm that prevented state employees from reporting to their offices. The analyst, however, said the snow, which fell late in the week, likely had little impact of the number of claims filed to the state because most are sent via telephone or the Internet.
The number of new claims has fallen in four of the past five weeks. The downward trend points to slow but steady job growth. Hiring typically picks up when layoffs decline.
Earlier this month, the Labor Department said employers added 157,000 jobs in January, and revised data showed job growth in 2012 was better than first reported.
Still, the unemployment rate, obtained by a separate survey of U.S. households, moved up one-tenth of a percentage point to 7.9% last month, in part because the labor force is growing.
Thursday's claims report showed the number of continuing unemployment benefit claims--those drawn by workers for more than a week--decreased by 130,000 to 3,114,000 in the week ended Feb. 2. That's the lowest level since July 2008. Continuing claims are reported with a one-week lag.
The number of workers requesting unemployment insurance was equivalent to 2.4% of employed workers paying into the system in the week ended Feb. 2, down from 2.5% the prior week.
Write to Eric Morath at eric.morath@dowjones.com and Sarah Portlock at sarah.portlock@dowjones.com.
 
Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires

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