Filings for Jobless Benefits Decline, Defying Expectations

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The New York Times
By: The Associated Press
October 7, 2010

Applications for unemployment benefits fell last week for the fourth time in five weeks, a sign of declining layoffs.

The Labor Department said Thursday that initial claims for jobless aid dropped by 11,000, to a seasonally adjusted 445,000. That was the lowest level since the week ending July 10. Wall Street analysts had expected a small increase.

Weekly applications have rarely fallen below 450,000 this year, and never for longer than two weeks. Economists say that a sustained drop below 425,000 would signal employers were stepping up hiring.

The four-week average of new claims, a less volatile measure, dropped to 455,750, the sixth consecutive weekly decline.

Claims have fallen sharply since June 2009, the month the recession ended. They topped 600,000 at the end of that month.

But the improvement has largely stalled this year. Initial claims have generally fluctuated around 450,000 since January. Any sustained decline below that level would be a positive sign that the job market was improving.

The Labor Department also reported that job openings rose in August for a second month and layoffs dropped sharply, evidence that the job market was slowly healing.

The number of jobs advertised rose nearly 2 percent, to 3.2 million, its highest level 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.

Private sector layoffs, meanwhile, dropped sharply to 1.6 million in August, the lowest in more than four years.

In another report, the Federal Reserve said consumer borrowing fell again in August as consumers cut back on credit card use for the 24th consecutive month.

Borrowing by consumers declined by $3.3 billion that month. It was the 18th drop for overall consumer borrowing in the past 19 months.

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