msnbc.com news services
updated 3/27/2008 11:42:39 AM ET 2008-03-27T15:42:39

The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits fell by 9,000 last week, the government said on Thursday, though a more reliable gauge of layoff trends rose to its highest in more than two years.

Major Market Indices

The new data didn’t change the broader picture of a slower jobs market.

Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits fell to 366,000 in the week ended March 22 from a revised 375,000 for the prior week, the Labor Department said.

The four-week average of new jobless claims, which is considered a more accurate measurement of employment trends since it smoothes out weekly volatility, rose to 358,000 in the week ended March 22 from 356,250 in the previous week.

The weekly claims numbers came in higher than the 365,000 that private economists had forecast. The department originally reported claims at 378,000 for the week ended March 15.

The four-week moving average of new claims rose to its highest since October 22, 2005, which was in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

A separate report on Thursday showed that fourth quarter gross domestic product met expectations of a 0.6 percent annual growth rate. The U.S. dollar extended gains and Treasury prices fell to session lows after the data. Futures prices indicated U.S. stocks would open higher.

The number of people remaining on the benefit rolls after drawing an initial week of aid fell 5,000 to 2.85 million in the week ended March 15, the latest period for which figures were available. Wall Street economists forecast 2.87 million so-called continued claims.

The Labor Department also on Thursday released annual seasonal revisions that went back five years.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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