Jobless Claims Plummet to Early 2001 Levels

December 31, 2003 ( - In the most positive sign in a long while that the often-faltering economic recovery may be gaining its sea legs after all, the number of jobless Americans applying for initial claims last week fell to the lowest level since early 2001.

It was the third straight decline in the unemployment figure, according to the latest report from the US Department of Labor (DoL). The DoL said the first-time claims figure came in at 339,000 for the week ending December 27, down 15,000 from a revised 354,000 the week before. This puts the unemployment number at the lowest it has been since February 2001.

The widely monitored four-week moving claims average also fell to its lowest since February 10, 2001, dropping 6,500 to 355,750 from 362,250 the week before. Economists believe the average presents a more stable economic barometer because it irons out short-term volatility.

The only potential storm cloud in the latest economic data was the fact that the number of people continuing to claim a week of benefits rose by 81,000 to 3.32 million, suggesting many Americans are still having a tough time finding work.

Analysts are eagerly awaiting release of the next job-creation report and unemployment rate for December, scheduled for January 9. According to a Reuters’ poll, analysts estimated that 125,000 new jobs were created in December, accelerating from the increase of 57,000 reported for November.

Analysts in the Reuters poll had predicted 355,000 total jobless claims for the December 27 week.