According to the US Department of Labor (DoL), claims for the unemployment aid fell by 18,000 to 377,000 from a revised 395,000 for the February 8 week – significantly better than the predicted 389,000 total claims from Wall Street economists in a regular poll. Claims for the February 1 week dropped by 11,000 (See Jobless Claims Still Stuck Around 400,000 Mark ).
However, the closely watched four-week moving average – considered a more reliable guide to the job market because it smoothes out short-term fluctuations — increased by 3,500 to 389,000.
The DoL also reported that the ranks of the unemployed thinned a bit for the week ending February 1. The total number of unemployed workers who remained on the benefit rolls after filing an initial claim dropped by 12,000 to 3.31 million.
Analysts have taken comfort from seeing the four-week average move down and hold below 400,000 for several weeks since many look on claims above that level as a sign of a stagnant job market. While economic analysts caution that lasting job market improvements won’t come about until the geopolitical uncertainty of war with Iraq is resolved and companies and investors regain their confidence, analysts say that the last several DoL jobless claims reports suggest at least that the economy isn’t still getting worse..
The Labor Department said last week that the economy added 143,000 nonfarm jobs in January — the biggest monthly gain in over two years and one that made up for much of December’s jobs loss of 156,000.Also, the DoL said the January unemployment rate was 5.7% – down from December’s 6% – and the lowest level since September (See Economy Piles on 143,000 New Jobs, Unemployment Rate Falls ).