Dec. 13, 2012 at 8:48 AM ET
The number of American workers seeking unemployment aid fell by much more than expected in the latest week, a sign that the labor market continues to heal, although slowly and in fits and starts.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that new jobless claims dropped a seasonally-adjusted 29,000 to 343,000, the lowest in two months and the second-lowest total this year. It was the fourth straight week that jobless claims have fallen.
Economists had expected a flat reading on new jobless claims.
The four week moving average, considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market's health, fell 27,000 to 381,500.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the drop indicates that companies are cutting fewer jobs. But employers also need to step up hiring to rapidly push down the unemployment rate.
Applications spiked five weeks ago because of Superstorm Sandy. The storm's impact has now faded. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 27,000 to 381,500.
Before the storm, applications had fluctuated between 360,000 and 390,000 this year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.