updated 11/9/2006 9:02:42 AM ET 2006-11-09T14:02:42

The number of newly laid off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits fell by 20,000 last week, a bigger than expected improvement which showed the labor market is so far withstanding the overall economic slowdown.

The Labor Department reported that 308,000 laid off workers filed benefit applications, down from 328,000 in the previous week. The drop of 20,000 surpassed the decline of 12,000 that many economists were expecting.

Last week, the government reported that the overall, seasonally adjusted civilian national unemployment rate for October fell to 4.4 percent, the lowest level in 5½ years.

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