Jobless Queue Shortest Since February

October 9, 2003 ( - The queue of unemployed Americans applying for first-time jobless benefits last week was the shortest it has been since February, the government reported.

According to the US Department of Labor (DoL), initial filings for the week ending October 4 dropped 23,000 to 382,000 from a revised 405,000 the week before. The much-watched four-week moving average, which irons out short-term volatility, also headed south by 11,500 to 393,500 from a revised 405,000 – the average’s first such drop below the key 400,000 benchmark in six weeks. Economists generally regard the 400,000 claims level as the dividing line between a healthy employment market and a slumbering one.

First-time jobless claims may have been down, but that didn’t mean those already out of work were about to scoot quickly back into a job. The DoL reported a slim 7,000 decrease in the number of Americans forced to cling to the unemployment rolls to a hefty 3.64 million for the week ending September 27. Also, o nce again, the panel of economists participating in Reuters’ weekly poll was off in its predictions for the October 4 week, calling for a claims level of 393,000.

Job-market watchers have been particularly concerned about the nation’s job loss in recent months with the economy having shed more than a million positions since November 2001. In one piece of good news, the government recently announced that employers tacked on 57,000 new jobs in September  (See  Surprise! Companies Add 57,000 Jobs in September ).

The DoL said initial jobless claims for the week ending September 27 climbed 13,000 to 399,000 with about half of the increase coming from claims that couldn’t be filed the week before due to Hurricane Isabel. (See Lagging Isabel Claims Boost Jobless Numbers ).