The number of newly laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week as the labor market continued its fitful recovery.
The Labor Department said Thursday the number of new jobless claims fell to a 452,000 last week, down 28,000 from the previous week, on a seasonally adjusted basis. That's a better performance than the decline to 470,000 that economists had expected.
The four-week average for claims, which smooths out fluctuations, fell to 465,250 — the 16th straight weekly decline. That's viewed as an encouraging sign that the labor market is improving gradually.
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Both the average and new claims numbers are at their lowest levels since September 2008, when the financial crisis hit with full force.
Also Thursday, the government said orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket durable goods posted a smaller-than-expected increase in November. Reduced demand for aircraft and autos offset strength in other areas. The gains outside of transportation were an encouraging sign that manufacturing will contribute to the economic recovery.
The Commerce Department said orders for durable goods edged up 0.2 percent, weaker than the 0.5 percent gain economists had expected. But excluding transportation, orders rose 2 percent over the October level, double what economists had forecast.
Unemployment claims have been falling unevenly since summer. That improvement is seen as a sign that jobs cuts are slowing and hiring could pick up early next year. The fall in weekly claims of 28,000 last week, which followed two smaller weekly increases, shows that the halting improvement continues.
But the Labor Department warned that seasonal employment from holidays and other variables in the calendar made last week a difficult one to seasonally adjust.
Economists monitor jobless claims as a gauge of the pace of layoffs. Analysts say initial claims need to fall to about 425,000 for several weeks to signal the economy is actually beginning to add jobs.
The government said the number of people continuing to receive regular jobless benefits fell by 127,000 to 5.08 million for the week ending Dec. 12. That figure does not include millions of people who have used up the 26 weeks of benefits typically provided by states and are now receiving extended benefits for up to 73 additional weeks, paid for by the federal government.
The number of people receiving extended benefits jumped to 4.37 million for the week ending Dec. 5, an increase of 141,807 from the previous week. That big rise slows that the problem of high unemployment persists despite a decrease in layoffs.
It also reflects the fact that 38 states are now processing claims for the extension of benefits that Congress approved last month.
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