WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid plummeted last week to seasonally adjusted 339,000, the lowest level in more than four years. The sharp drop, if sustained, could signal a stronger job market.
The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications fell by 30,000 to the fewest since February 2008. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped by 11,500 to 364,000, a six-month low.
The positive figures follow a report last week that said the unemployment rate fell in September to 7.8 percent. It was the first time since January 2009 that the rate dropped below 8 percent.
A Labor Department spokesman cautioned that the weekly unemployment aid applications can be volatile, particularly at the start of a quarter. And the spokesman said one large state accounted for much of the decline. The spokesman did not name the state.
Unemployment benefit applications are a proxy for layoffs. When they consistently drop below 375,000, it suggests that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.
Some economists said they want to see more data before suggesting the job market is turning around.
"Should this level hold for another week, it would flag a meaningful improvement in October" hiring, said Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, in a note to clients.
Dan Greenhaus, chief market strategist at BTIG LLC, is also reserving judgment. "Are things that much better all of a sudden? Perhaps. We're going to wait for some corroborating data."
The total number of people receiving unemployment benefits also fell, the Labor Department said. A little more than 5 million Americans received benefits in the week ending Sept. 22, the latest data available. That's down about 44,000 from the previous week.
Last week's report noted that the unemployment rate declined to 7.8 percent in September from 8.1 percent in August because a government survey of households found that 873,000 more people had jobs. It was the biggest jump in nearly 10 years, although it was largely because of an increase in part-time employment.
A separate survey of businesses showed that employers added only 114,000 jobs in September. That's generally enough to keep pace with population growth but not enough to rapidly bring relief to more than 12 million who are unemployed.
Hiring over the summer was stronger than previously estimated. The economy gained an average of 146,000 jobs a month in the July-September quarter. That's more than double the monthly pace in the April-June quarter.
Another report Wednesday suggested hiring will likely remain modest. Employers posted slightly fewer open jobs in August compared with July, the Labor Department said. It was the second straight monthly drop and the fewest openings since April.
A key problem is the economy is not growing fast enough to generate much hiring. Growth slowed to a tepid annual rate of 1.3 percent in the April-June quarter, down from 2 percent in the previous quarter. Most economists see growth staying at or below 2 percent in the second half of the year.
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (6/18-6/24)
25 photos Launch gallery
1. Me & the homie @jaleelwhite #RujohnFoundation Happy to be in Jamaica! Good times
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5. Good Morning. Early day in Detroit! Making press rounds for @thebossnetwork's Ladies That Lead Tour. Thank you @traycemadre and @colourbynumbr for my glam.
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6. POWER the best show on TV @djenvy, Queens we so big out here. #EFFENVODKA #FRIGO
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7. They said u lost a step, wasn't explosive as once was, the best days was in the real view, questioned your drive, your leadership, your commitment, you don't have killer instinct, going back home is the worst mistake in your career, he got the coach fired, players traded, won't work between him and Kyrie, Him and Kev won't work, love your teammates to much, there's no way he can deliver a championship in his hometown, etc etc etc.... But guess what THATS NONE OF MY BUSINESS #StriveForGreatness #ThisOneIsForTheLand #PutSomeRespeckOnMyName Hahahaha!!! Yes sir
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8. Oooooh weeee this man right here is responsible for at least three of our four babies!! #JOE ❤❤❤🎤 #rnb #king #voicelikebutter #ForPeetesSake
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9. Hanging with my @abcnetwork family! @abcunclebuck tonite y'all check us out ! @anthonyanderson @traceeellisross
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10. My broski ( @sayeedshahidi ) and I are on Top 5 Live on @go90 at 5 (which is super duper close)! Make sure to tune in :) #UncleBuck #Blackish
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11. Lights out💤 #GoodNight
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12. Late nights mornings
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13. Ran into the lovely talented @siedahgarrett on this brutiful favvuz deh!
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14. #halal #love #thedargans #kattwilliamsSHOW #mashallah when that Jennah piece HIT!! @sweetjennahcollection glasses by @baddieglamaccessories LIZ 😍 @dynamiteko top @dazzledmv and jeans @thevision414 and shoes: @louboutinworld
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15. Big Hair and Optical Illusions #OceanDrive #MiamiLiving #coverparty
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16. MAMA and THE SAVAGES ... ⚓️ #supportyourlocalgirlgang
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17. From the bottom of my ❤️, thank you new followers & old! & hello fellow night owls! #grateful #racheltrue #naturalhair #curlyhair #curlygirl #healthyhair
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18. I feel so grateful because I met these amazing young minds, visiting from Houston TX, during their college tour stop today at #usc.These students are ALL extraordinary and embody academic excellence so I'm humbled to have shared a few moments with them to applaud and celebrate their bright futures ahead! Thank you @EmergeFellows for inviting me to speak and blessing me with your love and attention this afternoon!
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19. Happy Fathers Day Pops. U taught me how to be a man. Lessons of love, hard work & gratefulness. Sorry the fishing didn't stick. LOL. I Love U!
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20. Sky Zone and Ice Cream! Best Fathers Day Ever!! Photo credit @mariahcarey
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21. Look what finally came in the mail 😎 #mtvmovieawards2016 💥+🌽! #straightouttacompton
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22. Claudia Jordan: ....
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23. 'Member that time I almost knocked a bajillion dollar camera off the car? Really? Yeah, me neither! #Greenleaf Episode 2 comin atcha!
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24. Full of love. #birthday #Cabo
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25. Oh hey! Look who just joined Snapchat
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