Jobless claims fall, labor market recovery advances

Thu Apr 25, 2013 10:47am EDT
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By Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week by a surprisingly large 16,000, a sign there is still gas in the tank for the labor market's recovery despite signs of slower growth.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

"The trend suggests a very slow improvement in the labor market," said Gary Thayer, a macro strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors in St. Louis.

The report runs counter to several weeks of signals that economic activity softened in March and early April, a phenomenon economists have dubbed the spring swoon because it also happened in the previous two years.

The four-week moving average for new claims, a less volatile measure of labor market trends, fell 4,500 to 357,500.

The data eased concerns of a deterioration in labor market conditions after nonfarm payrolls posted their smallest increase in nine months in March.

"The downtrend in unemployment remains on track," said Jim O'Sullivan, an economist at High frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York.

Still, claims have been difficult to adjust for seasonal swings in recent weeks because of the Easter holiday and spring breaks that are staggered across the nation's schools, so analysts were cautious about too firm a conclusion about what the data might signal.   Continued...

Job seekers listen to a presentation at the Colorado Hospital Association health care career fair in Denver April 9, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking