Initial Jobless Claims Hit 4-Year Low as Hiring Gets Stronger

Jobless numbers and unemploymentBy CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON -- The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell to a four-year low last week, suggesting employers kept hiring in March at a healthy pace. Weekly applications dropped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 357,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's the fewest since April 2008.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to 361,750, also the lowest in four years. The average has dropped nearly 13% in the past six months.

When unemployment benefit applications drop consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

See our gallery on The 11 Jobs Expected To Grow The Most here.

The downward trend in applications is a promising sign ahead of Friday's report on March job growth. Employers added an average of 245,000 jobs per month from December through February. And the unemployment rate has fallen from 9.1% in August to 8.3% in February, the lowest in three years.

Economists forecast that employers added 210,000 jobs last month, although they expect the unemployment rate was unchanged for the second straight month.

"We believe that the economy has entered a more self-sustaining phase of the recovery with stronger job creation," said John Ryding, an analyst at RDQ Economics, in a note to clients.

Hiring is picking up as the economy is showing signs of steady growth. Consumer spending jumped in February by the most in seven months, the government said last week.

That's boosting retailers, restaurants, hotels and other service firms. The service sector expanded at a healthy pace in March, according to a private survey released Wednesday. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said that its survey found that a measure of employment rose to nearly a six-year high.

A separate survey by the ISM of manufacturing companies found that they also stepped up hiring last month, and boosted production.

The number of people receiving benefits fell to 7.1 million in the week ended March 17, the latest data available. That's about 100,000 fewer than the previous week. The figure includes about 3.3 million people receiving extended benefits under federal programs put in place during the recession.

Companies are investing more, boosting factory output. Businesses ordered more machinery, equipment and other capital goods in February, according to a government report this week.

Yet, greater hiring hasn't led to bigger paychecks. Americans' income grew just 0.2% in February, matching January's weak increase. And after taking inflation into account, income after taxes fell for a second straight month. Consumers have boosted their spending by saving less, which economists worry isn't sustainable.

And some companies are still letting workers go. Yahoo said Wednesday that it is cutting 2,000 jobs, or 14% of its work force. It is the Internet company's sixth mass layoff in the past four years.

See our gallery on The 11 Jobs Expected To Grow The Most here.

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Well, that's the AOL/HuffPuff/AssociatedPress pro-Obama spin.

In the real world it means there are fewer employed people left to lay off.

April 06 2012 at 1:44 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ha6ai's comment

No, that's nto what it means. There are more people employed, at least related to the recent past. As an example, total non-farm US employment in March, 2012 was 142,034,000 compared to 139,764,000 one year earlier in March, 2011.

But makin $hit up is loads of fun, huh?

April 06 2012 at 12:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Move to China I heard they are hiring.

April 05 2012 at 6:04 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

A lot of crap. What about the poor slob babyboomer who still is good health and would like to work in places other than Home Depot, Loews and Walmart. If you corporations are concerned about paying out health insurance to anyone over 50 then let the employee waiver it. The work ethic is this country makes you want to vomit

April 05 2012 at 6:02 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

The story I read merely states that new claims for unemployment are at a 4-year low. Nowhere does the article say that everyone who wants a job has one, or that there are no problems. Yet, each time a story like this appears, angry, frustrated people vent, regardless of whether their comments have any relevance.

April 05 2012 at 2:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to avuk's comment

Figures do not lie but liars, like this article's writer, figure that we are stupid. The article is misleading!

April 05 2012 at 7:10 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Can you give us any date in our history when everyone who wanted a job had one, or that there were no problems?

Perhaps during WWII everyone who wanted a job had one, but only because the civilian labor force had been substanially shrunk due to a large number of would-be workers being removed from the labor force to instead become soldiers. Of course, thinking people would observe that was a bit of a "problem".

April 06 2012 at 12:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Mr. Rugaber got it wrong once again. It's the number of NEW people filing for unemployment benefits, not the number of people as he puts it. The number of people filing for unemployment benefits is in the millions. These weekly filing numbers are NEW people filings. Got it Mr. Rugaber?

April 05 2012 at 12:55 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

The companies aren't hiring more; they just aren't laying off as much.

April 05 2012 at 12:45 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rgkarasiewicz's comment

No hiring + reduced firing = reduction in employed.

Except employment isn't declining.

Better luck next time!

April 06 2012 at 12:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

These stories always ignore the simple fact that the potential pool of folks who might apply for benefits just keeps getting smaller and smaller. In addition to that, businesses are and having been running lean for the last 3+ years. The plant that had 800 workers 3 years ago has cut a 100 per year until they are down to 500. They just cannot cut any more jobs and operate the plant. The base statistic might qualify as "good news", but when you look at the reasons behind the stat, hard to get very excited or optimistic that a stat like this might mean everything is rosey.

April 05 2012 at 12:08 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

And the 99 week folks keep falling off the rolls.... real question is" how many new jobs created since 2009/" Total employed January 2009 and total employed January 2012?? Hope & Change??/ Not!

April 05 2012 at 11:08 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to cpo1514's comment

And what is the total employment as compared to 2005? More Obama lies and government/media figures.
Bought gas lately. That definitely keeps going up, up and up under Obama and his rump swabs.

April 05 2012 at 1:51 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jdykbpl45's comment

If you really want a comparison to criticize Obama, how about using appropriate dates? He took the oath of office Jan 2009. Even the most unreasonable among the unreasonable would have to acknowledge that he, and any other new president that takes office, is just the victim or benefactor of what the conditions and momentum were during their first year in office. If you want to blame game him, at least use a fair date of early 2010.

April 05 2012 at 5:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

Total non-farm civilian employment in March, 2009 was 140,887,000

Total non-farm civilian employment in March, 2012 was 142,034, 000.

Of course, in the interim the number of employed initially fell before more recently rising.

But the recent reduction in first time claims for unemployment insurance is in fact correlating to the recent uptick in overall employment.

April 06 2012 at 12:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply