Jobless claims fall in U.S.

Continuing claims hit lowest level since October 2008
By Lucia Mutikani
||Last Updated: 04/07/2011

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — New claims for unemployment benefits in the United States fell slightly more than expected last week, pointing to firming labor market conditions.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 382,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Economists had forecast claims falling to 385,000.

``The downtrend in initial claims remains firmly in place, and overall the data point to a continued gradual improvement in the underlying pace of layoffs, consistent with the steady progress that we have seen in the payrolls data,'' said Omair Sharif, an economist at RBS in Stamford, Conn.

Separately, U.S. retailers were set to report a drop in March same-store sales, hurt by Easter falling three weeks later than last year, which delays some spring clothing purchases.

Analysts were expecting a tally of 25 major retailers to show a drop of 0.7 per cent in sales at stores open at least a year, according to Thomson Reuters.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data, with stock index futures holing on their slight gains.

The four-week moving average of unemployment claims — a better measure of underlying trends — fell 5,750 to 389,500.

The government reported last week that payrolls increased 216,000 in March, with the unemployment rate falling to a two-year low of 8.8 per cent.

A Labor Department official said there was nothing unusual in the claims data.

Claims have now held beneath the 400,000 level that is generally associated with steady job growth for four weeks in a row, with the four-week average below that mark for the sixth straight week.

The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 9,000 to 3.72 million in the week ended March 26, the lowest level since October 2008. Economists had expected so-called continuing claims to slip to 3.7 million from a previously reported 3.71 million.

The number of people on emergency unemployment benefits dropped 25,785 to 3.56 million in the week ended March 19, the latest week for which data is available. A total of 8.52 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during that period under all programs.

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