Feb. 7, 2013 at 8:51 AM ET
The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits dropped in the latest week, Labor Department data showed Thursday, suggesting that the labor market continues to heal, but very slowly.
The Labor Department reported that seasonally-adjusted initial claims dropped 5,000 to 366,000 in the week ended Feb. 2. The four-week moving average, considered a more accurate reading of labor market conditions because it smooths out rough spots in the data, dropped 2,250 to 350,500.
The department also said that productivity slipped in the fourth quarter by the largest amount since the first quarter of 2012, but most of that was due to temporary factors. It said productivity fell by an annual rate of 2 percent versus a rise of 3.2 percent in the third quarter.
Productivity is expected to rebound in the current period because analysts believe weak output during the fourth quarter was partially due to temporary factors like an unusually sharp decline in government spending on the military.
Data last week showed output in the overall economy contracted 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter, and analysts expect gross domestic product to return to growth early this year.
Reuters contributed to this report.