Experts had expected a small increase in first-time jobless claims last week, but applications declined to their lowest level since January 2008. The Labor Department says claims decreased by 18,000, to 324,000. The four-week rolling average, which gives a better picture of labor-market conditions, declined a second consecutive week, to 342,250.
For the third consecutive week, initial claims for U.S. unemployment benefits fell, the Labor Department said. Last week, the number of first-time claims dropped 21,000 from the previous week's 551,000. The Labor Department's most recent data put the jobless rate at 9.7%, the highest in 26 years.
Last week's initial unemployment claims rose 30,000 over last week's 330,000, the highest number since December 2002. Analysts say the four-week average rose to slightly more than 344,000, which -- while still increasing -- they contend is still slightly below the level generally accepted as marking an improved job market.