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Jobless claims fall to lowest level in 3 months

New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, touching their lowest level in nearly three months.
/ Source: news services

New U.S. claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, touching their lowest level in nearly three months, according to a government report on Thursday that pointed to some stability in the troubled labor market.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 445,000, the lowest since the July 10 week, the Labor Department said.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast claims edging up to 455,000 from the previously reported 453,000. The government revised the prior week's figure up to 456,000.

Although the data has little bearing on September's employment report due on Friday as it falls outside the survey period, it does little to change perceptions the Federal Reserve will roll out a new asset purchasing program next month to keep interest rates low.

Non-farm payrolls were likely unchanged last month as more temporary census jobs ended and broke state and local governments laid off workers, even as private hiring picked up, according to a Reuters survey.

A Labor Department official said only one state had been estimated in last week's claims data. The four-week average of new jobless claims, considered a better measure of underlying labor market trends, to fell 3,000 to 455,750, the lowest level since the July 24 week.

The second straight week of declines in new applications for unemployment benefits pushed them further away from a nine-month high of 504,000 touched in mid-August. Claims are now in the upper end of the 400,000-450,000 range that analysts say is normally associated with labor market stability.

The number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 48,000 to 4.46 million in the week ended Sept. 25, the lowest since June 26, from an upwardly revised 4.51 million the prior week.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast so-called continuing claims dipping to 4.45 million from a previously reported 4.46 million.

The insured unemployment rate, which measures the percentage of the insured labor force that is jobless, slipped to 3.5 percent during that period from 3.6 percent the prior week.

The number of people on emergency benefits increased 157,735 to 4.1 million in the week ended Sept. 18.

Some companies are hiring despite the weak economy. Daryl Dulaney, chief executive of Siemens Industry Inc., says his company's parent, Siemens USA, has 1,200 job openings. About 40 percent require an engineering or information technology background, and the company has had difficulty finding qualified candidates, despite the high jobless rate, Dulaney said.

And, in another sign that the job market may be slowly healing, the Labor Department said the number of jobs advertised rose nearly 2 percent, to 3.2 million. That's the highest since April, when temporary census hiring inflated that month's figure.

Job openings at private companies rose slightly to 2.85 million, the highest in 21 months.

Even with the increases, the number of available jobs is far below the 4.4 million advertised in December 2007, when the recession began.