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New unemployment claims fall

Labor Department says 366,000 filed for benefits last week for the first time, falling more than expected.

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By Kenneth Musante, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- New filings for unemployment claims fell last week, according to a report released Thursday by the Labor Department.

According to the report, 366,000 people filed for unemployment for the first time in the week ended March 22, down 9,000 from a revised 375,000 reported in the previous week.

A consensus of economists polled by Briefing.com had expected to see initial jobless claims to fall to 371,000 from the originally reported 378,000.

Much of the prior report's new claims numbers were inflated by an ongoing strike in the automobile industry, according to Andrew Gledhill, an economist with Moody's Economy.com. The fact that claims only retreated 9,000 this week is "further evidence the labor market is having difficulty," he said.

The level of new jobless claims can be used to determine the health of the overall economy, but one economist doesn't see a lot of problems with the latest numbers.

"This measure is not turning on the recession signal," said Robert Brusca, economist with FAO Economics. "The job market continues to show resiliency."

Over the past four weeks, a running average of 358,000 people filed for unemployment for the first time per week, up 1,750 from the previous week's revised average of 356,250, and higher than the 312,000 average reported during the same period last year.

"So far it shows there is some slowdown in the economy," but "it isn't that dramatic," Brusca said.

Other economic signals have not shown as much strength.

A report from the Commerce Department released Thursday showed that the gross domestic product, a measure of all the goods and services produces within the country, rose a paltry annual rate of 0.6% between October and December of 2007. In the previous quarter, the GDP grew at 4.9%.

Continuing claims for those already receiving benefits fell just slightly to 2.845 million in the week ended March 15, the most recent week available, from a revised 2.85 million reported for the prior week.

Over the four weeks ended March 15, continuing jobless claims reached a running average of 2.82 million per week, up from the prior week's revised average of 2.8 million, and remains well above the 2.5 million average reported for the same period last year.

The number of claims for those who are already on unemployment reveals that slower hiring is more responsible for the troubled labor market than loss of jobs, according to Gledhill.

"Payrolls are a lot leaner," he said, "Businesses are really reigning in their hiring."

New jobless claims in Missouri, Michigan and Ohio increased the most in the week ended March 15, due to layoffs in the automobile industry, the report said. California saw the biggest drop in first-time claims, falling more than 5,000.

While the weekly jobless claims report offers an up-to-the week measure of the labor market, the Labor Department's monthly employment report, which next comes out April 4, will reveal a broader view of layoffs and hiring. Many economists use the measure to help determine the health of the overall economy. To top of page

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