Unemployment claims lowest since April

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WASHINGTON — Little by very little, the job market is getting better.

A closely watched measure of the jobs crisis, the number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time each week, fell to 388,000 in a report released Thursday, its lowest point since April.

The four-week average, which economists check because it smooths out the week-to-week fluctuations in the job market, dropped below 400,000 for the first time in seven months.

Claims would have to be below 375,000 – and consistently – to signal the sustained job gains that the United States needs to lower its 9 percent unemployment rate. But economists were at least encouraged by the trend.

“The level isn’t as important as the change,” said Michael Gapen, senior U.S. economist at Barclays Capital. “And right now that’s suggesting moderate improvement.”

The number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits fell to 3.6 million. That is the fewest since Sept. 20, 2008 – the week that Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and started the financial meltdown.

The 3.6 million figure is through Nov. 5. That’s down from nearly 4 million at the beginning of the year. Some of that decline is because recipients found work, but much of it is because many of the unemployed have used up all their benefits.

The government’s count of the total number of Americans on the jobless rolls trails the report on first-time claims by one week.

The nation added 80,000 jobs in October, the 13th straight month of gains. It added more in August and September – 104,000 and 158,000 – than the government first thought. It takes about 125,000 a month to keep up with population growth.

The unemployment claims figure suggests businesses haven’t become spooked and started laying off workers because of the turmoil in Europe, where one country after another is dealing with debt problems.

Still, “layoffs aren’t holding back the economy, it’s the lack of hiring,” said Ryan Sweet, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. Sweet said he believes the economy will add 115,000 jobs this month, about the average from the past three months.

Powered by stronger consumer spending, the economy grew in July, August and September at an annual rate of 2.5 percent, considerably faster than the 1.3 percent the quarter before.

AUGUSTA ADDS JOBS

Augusta gained 1,000 jobs in October, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

The gains came in retail, business services and the hospitality industry. Slight losses were recorded in manufacturing and federal government work.

State data, released Thursday morning, said there were 208,000 people with jobs in the six-county metropolitan area, up from September, but down 2,100 jobs from October 2010.

Georgia added 26,500 jobs last month, most of the growth occurring from early hiring in retail, transportation and warehousing, as employers prepared for the holiday season.

In all, there were 3.81 million Georgians with work in October, up from 3.79 million in September.

State labor officials say Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined to 10.2 percent in October, down one-tenth of a percentage point from September.

The state also said there was an increase in the number of people filing for unemployment benefits in the Augusta area. There were 2,155 initial claims, up from 1,757 in September, and higher than the 1,987 seen in October 2010.

Statewide, the number of people seeking unemployment for the first time increased 9 percent, to 55,865. Most of the first-time claims were filed in manufacturing, administrative and support services, and construction. There was an over-the-year decrease of 1,629 initial claims, or 2.8 percent, from 57,494 filed in October of last year.


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