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Initial Unemployment Claims Drop To New Four-Year Low

First-time claims for unemployment insurance fell 5,000 to 359,000 for the week, the ""Labor Department"":http://www.dol.gov/ reported Thursday.


The previous week's report ├â┬ó├óÔÇÜ┬¼├óÔé¼┼ô and all data reports back to 2007 - were revised to show a jump for mid-March to 364,000 instead of the originally reported 348,000. Even with the upward revisions, claims dipped to the lowest level since April 2008.

Economists had expected initial claims would increase to 350,000. Data for the week ended mid-March covered the same ""reference"" week used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its survey for the monthly employment situation report which includes the unemployment rate.

The upward revision dims some of the optimism for the unemployment rate as it showed claims plateauing at a higher level than originally reported. According to the revised data, initial claims for the March reference week increased 2,000 from the February reference week.

Continuing claims, reported on a one-week lag, also fell, dropping 41,000 to 3,340,000 for mid-March, the third


straight week-over-week decline. Continuing claims reflect the other part of the employment picture hinting at hiring and were down 87,000 from mid-February hinting at an uptick in hiring though continuing claims could contract if benefits ran out for some individuals as well.

The four-week moving average for initial claims improved to 365,000, down 3,500 from the previous week while the four week average for continuing claims declined 21,750 to 3,387,750.

The revised data changes the overall picture for initial claims which had originally been on a steady downward drift. The new numbers show initial claims have increased in seven of the first 12 weeks of this year suggesting the pace of layoffs may not have slowed.

Continuing claims are also declining but the underlying reasons are not as clear. To be sure some of the decline could be attributed to individuals finding jobs, but also to the exhaustion of regular benefits which last for 26 weeks.

The number of people collecting benefits under all unemployment insurance programs, reported on a two-week lag, fell 131,488 to 7,153,252. That tally though includes data from non-seasonally adjusted reports making conclusions less certain. According to the latest BLS report, 7.24 million people were officially counted as unemployed.

According to the Labor Department detail, also reported on a one-week lag, the largest increases in initial claims for mid-March were in Florida (+1,876), Hawaii (+469), Mississippi (+405), New Mexico (+292), and Iowa (+278), while the largest decreases were in New York (-3,103), Texas (-1,787), Pennsylvania (-1,606), California (-1,603), and Ohio (-1,419).