Initial claims for unemployment benefits in the U.S. declined to a seasonally adjusted 502,000 last week, the Labor Department said. It was a smaller number than economists had forecast and the lowest since the week that ended Jan. 3. Abiel Reinhart, an economist with JPMorgan Chase, said initial claims would have to drop to the high 400,000s to suggest even a weak improvement in the job market. He said the economy should start creating jobs in 2010's first quarter.

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