The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell last week, and the four-week moving average hit a near five-year low, pointing to an ongoing gradual recovery in the labor market.
In the week ended March 9, applications for unemployment insurance payments dropped 10,000 to 332,000, according to the Labor Department. That’s the second-lowest level in five years, and it came in below market expectations for a 350,000 reading. Initial claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 342,000 from an original reading of 344,000.
The four-week moving average, which normally provides a better indication of the underlying trend in labor markets than the weekly number of jobless claims, edged down by 2,750 to 346,750.
The number of people filing for benefits after an initial week of aid decreased by 89,000 to 3.02 million in the week ended March 2. The continuing claims figure does not include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs.
Job gains are of great importance, because they lead to income growth, and that supports consumer spending, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the U.S. economy.
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February’s big jump in job gains surprised even optimistic economists, pushing the unemployment rate down to the lowest level in four years. Non-farm payroll employment increased by 236,000 last month, up from a 119,000 increase the month before. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a gain of 160,000 jobs. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent. The last time the jobless rate was that low was in December 2008.