NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Jobless claims fell in the United States last week to the lowest level since January 2001, the government said Wednesday, as the labor market continued its slow recovery from a long slump.
The Labor Department said 351,000 people filed new claims for unemployment benefits in the week ended Nov. 22, the lowest level of new weekly claims since the week of Jan. 20, 2001, compared with a revised reading of 362,000 in the prior week. Economists, on average, expected 360,000 new claims, according to Briefing.com.
U.S. stock market futures were higher after the report, pointing to a positive opening on Wall Street. Treasury bond prices reversed early gains and fell modestly after the jobless numbers, as well as reports on durable goods orders and consumer spending and income. (For more on those reports, click here).
The labor market has long been one of the weakest aspects of the U.S. economy. Even after the latest recession ended in November 2001, nearly a million jobs were lost during the longest stretch without job creation since World War II.
But jobless claims have fallen in recent weeks, and the economy began to add workers to payrolls in September and October. Economists hope that, as the economy's recovery gathers steam, the labor market will continue to improve.
Most economists consider new claims below the 400,000 threshold as a sign of an improving labor market, and last week was the seventh consecutive week of jobless claims below 400,000.
The four-week moving average of new claims, which irons out the volatility of the weekly data, fell to 358,750 last week from a revised 368,750 in the prior week.
The four-week moving average was the lowest since February 2001, just before the economy entered recession, as measured by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Continued claims, the number of people out of work for a week or more, also fell to 3.37 million for the week ended Nov. 15, the latest data available, from a revised 3.47 million the prior week