First-time claims for unemployment insurance fell 13,000 for the week ending February 11 to 348,000 to the lowest level since March 2008, the ""Labor Department"":http://www.dol.gov/ said Thursday.[IMAGE]
Continuing claims, reported on a one-week lag, fell as well, dropping 100,000 to 3,426,000, the lowest level since August 2008.
The drop in initial claims was the third consecutive weekly decline; in that period first-time claims have fallen 31,000, or about 8 percent.
As significantly, the four-week moving average of filings fell for the fifth straight week and tenth time in the last 11 weeks to the lowest level since May 2008, smoothing the more volatile weekly numbers. The four-week average for[COLUMN_BREAK]
continuing claims dropped to under 3.5 million ├â┬ó├óÔÇÜ┬¼├óÔé¼┼ô 3,492,500 to be precise ├â┬ó├óÔÇÜ┬¼├óÔé¼┼ô for the first time since September 2008.
While the absolute numbers themselves are encouraging, the trend in filings is more significant. A flurry of improvement occurred a year ago when initial filings fell sharply in the seven weeks between mid-February and the end of March 2011 only to bounce back up, underscoring the fragility of the economic and jobs recovery.
The total number of individuals receiving benefits ├â┬ó├óÔÇÜ┬¼├óÔé¼┼ô including emergency and extended programs ├â┬ó├óÔÇÜ┬¼├óÔé¼┼ô rose slightly for the week ended January 28.
Those numbers are reported on a two-week lag ├â┬ó├óÔÇÜ┬¼├óÔé¼┼ô an increase of 18,304 to 7,681,911 ├â┬ó├óÔÇÜ┬¼├óÔé¼┼ô suggesting hiring remains a continuing challenge, even as layoffs may have abated. The reported agreement to extend those benefits will result in a sharp drop in the statistics since the agreement would cap benefits at 73 weeks rather than 99 weeks under current provisions.
The Labor Department shows a one-week lag for data, noting the largest increases in initial claims for the week ending February 4 were in California (up 5,864), North Carolina (up 1,211), Illinois (up 761), Puerto Rico (up 497), and Kansas (up 445).
The largest decreases occurred in Washington (down 6,294), Oregon (down 3,831), Michigan (down 2,551), Wisconsin (down 1,438), and New Jersey (down 1,266).