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New claims for unemployment benefits were unchanged last week, holding steady for a second week at the lowest level seen since March 2008.
U.S. workers filed 351,000 initial claims for state unemployment benefits in the week ended February 18, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. With weekly claims approaching levels last seen before the recession, economists say employers may be close to ending the long cycle of heavy layoffs, instead preparing for more hiring.
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The jobless rate fell to 8.3 percent in January, from 9.1 in August, and jobless claims so far this month would indicate that the unemployment rate will decline further in February. Job gains have exceeded 200,000 in each of the last two months, a trend that seems likely to continue given claims data so far this month.
The four-week moving average for new claims, a better measure of labor market trends, fell 7,000 to 359,000 — also the lowest since March 2008. The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid fell 52,000 to 3.392 million in the week ended February 11, to the lowest level since August 2008.
However, a total of 7.503 million people were claiming unemployment benefits during the week ended February 4 under all programs. A total of roughly 23.8 million Americans are either out of work or underemployed, and there are no job openings for nearly three out of every four unemployed.
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