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December 4, 2009

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Claims for jobless benefits fall

THE tally of newly laid-off American workers seeking unemployment benefits fell unexpectedly for the fifth straight week, a hopeful sign that the job market in the United States is slowly improving.

Still, claims remain above the levels that most analysts say would be consistent with an economy that is adding jobs. The unemployment rate is at 10.2 percent and expected to keep climbing into next year.

First-time claims for unemployment insurance dropped by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 457,000, the lowest total since the week of September 6, 2008, the US Labor Department said yesterday. Wall Street economists expected an increase, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

A department analyst said the closing of state unemployment offices for last week's Thanksgiving holiday was responsible for some of the decline.

Economists closely watch initial claims, which are viewed a gauge of layoffs and a sign of whether companies are willing to hire.

The four-week average of claims, which smooths out fluctuations, dropped for the 13th straight week to 481,250, about 180,000 below the peak for this recession reached this spring.

But the Federal Reserve said in a report on Wednesday that employers in most regions are reluctant to hire new workers, even as the economy stages a modest recovery.

Many economists say that claims need to fall to about 425,000 for at least a month to signal that employers are adding jobs. The economy has lost jobs for 22 straight months.

The department's employment report for November is set to be released today and is likely to show employers shed another 130,000 jobs after cutting 190,000 in October.


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