updated 1/22/2004 8:41:30 AM ET 2004-01-22T13:41:30

For the second week in a row, fewer people filed new claims to collect unemployment benefits, a hopeful sign that America’s businesses are feeling more confident that the economy’s recovery will be lasting.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that for the work week ending Jan. 17, new applications filed for unemployment insurance dipped by a seasonally adjusted 1,000 to 341,000, the lowest level since the end of December. The week before claims fell by 14,000, a sharper decline than the government first estimated a week ago.

The latest snapshot of jobless claims was better than analysts were expecting. They were forecasting a rise of around 2,000 for last week.

Meanwhile, the more stable four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week fluctuations, dropped by 3,250 last week to 344,500. That was the lowest level since the week ending Jan. 27, 2001 — seven days after President Bush’s inauguration.

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