NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
New jobless claims in the United States plunged last week, the government said Thursday, lower than economists expected, but stayed above a benchmark reading that points to a weak labor market.
The Labor Department said the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to 405,000 in the week ended April 5 from a revised 443,000 the prior week. Economists, on average, expected 428,000 new claims, according to a Reuters poll.
U.S. stock market futures had little reaction to the report, pointing to a mixed opening on Wall Street. Treasury bond prices rose.
Private non-farm payrolls are 2.5 million jobs lower than they were in March 2001, when economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research say a recession began. After a brief recovery in mid-2002, the labor market has worsened in recent months.
Most of the trouble, many economists believe, has been concern about the economic impact of the United States going to war with Iraq. According to this view, businesses will make long-term spending and hiring plans once the war is over.
Other economists, however, worry that businesses will not start hiring again until they see demand pick up significantly. Since there's little pent-up demand on the part of consumers, whose spending makes up more than two-thirds of the economy, it seems possible that the full economic recovery could take longer than most economists think.
In any event, most economists expect it will be months before the labor market begins growing significantly.
In the Labor Department's report Thursday, the four-week moving average of weekly jobless claims, which irons out the ups and downs of the volatile weekly data, fell to 419,500 from a revised 423,250 the prior week.
Continued claims, the number of people out of work for a week or more, fell to 3.49 million in the week ended March 29, the latest data available, from a revised 3.56 million the prior week.