First-time Claims Total Plummets 22,000

December 18, 2003 ( - After two straight weeks of heading north, the number of jobless workers applying for first-time benefits headed south in a big way last week.

According to the US Department of Labor, the first-time claims total, plunged 22,000 to 353,000 in the week ended December 13 from a revised 375,000 in the prior week. That brought claims back to the 2-3/4 year low they hit in early November and followed two weeks of government reports showing claims-total increases (See  Jobless Claims Suffer 2nd Straight Hike ).

Claims have been below the all-important 400,000 level economists see as a divide between improving and deteriorating labor markets for 11 straight weeks – the longest such stretch since April 2001.

Meanwhile, the four-week moving claims average – closely followed by analysts because it irons out short-term fluctuations – also dropped by 2,250 to 361,750.

The only increase in the latest government report came in the number of jobless Americans forced to cling to the unemployment rolls. It rose 28,000 to 3.34 million in the week ending December 6.

Wall Street economists participating in Reuters weekly survey had expectedDecember 13claims to drop to 365,000 from the 378,000 originally reported for the December 6 week.