WASHINGTON - The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for jobless benefits tumbled last week, a government report showed on Thursday, reversing a recent spike that had raised concerns about renewed labor market weakness.
Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped by 43,000 to a seasonally adjusted 440,000 for the week ended February 6, down from a revised 483,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said.
Analysts polled by Reuters had expected 465,000 initial claims. The prior week was initially reported as 480,000, an unexpectedly high reading that was blamed in part on a backlog of claims that piled up over the holiday season.
A Labor Department official said that with this latest report, the administrative backlog was largely washed out.
By and large we are resuming a normal level with all states reporting an appropriate base level, the official said.
The four-week moving average, which smoothes out week-to-week volatility, fell by 1,000 to 468,500.
Investors are keeping a close eye on jobless claims for evidence that the economy is on the verge of adding jobs again. With the exception of November 2009, payrolls have declined in every month since the recession began in December 2007.
That has piled political pressure on President Barack Obama, whose popularity fell as the jobless rate rose to a 26-year high.
In an economic report released earlier on Thursday, the White House said it expects job creation to resume this year, although the unemployment rate will fall only slowly and it was concerned about the large number of people out of work for a prolonged period.
The Labor Department's report showed the number of people applying for benefits after an initial week of aid fell to 4.54 million in the week ended January 30, the lowest in 13 months. However, that figure is somewhat skewed by the fact that many people have dropped off the rolls because they have exhausted benefits, not because they have found new jobs.
(Reporting by Emily Kaiser, Editing by Andrea Ricci)