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Jobless claims fall below 450,000

By Annalyn Censky, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Initial filings for unemployment insurance fell to the lowest level in nearly three months last week, an encouraging sign ahead of the government's highly anticipated monthly jobs report due Friday.

The number of first-time filers for unemployment benefits fell to 445,000 in the week ended Oct. 2, down 11,000 from the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The number was lower than economists' forecasts of 455,000, according to consensus estimates by Briefing.com, but it still fell in a range that analysts say points to weakness in the job market.

"It's a good data point for the week," said T.C. Robillard, a senior research analyst for Signal Hill Capital. "But, historically speaking, these are still relatively high levels for where we are in the recovery."

The last time initial claims ticked below 450,000 was during the week ended July 10.

But overall, the weekly number has been stuck in a tight range since last November, hovering in the mid to upper 400,000s and even ticking slightly above 500,000 in mid-August.

The most recent four-week moving average, which is calculated to smooth out volatility, was 455,750.

Economists say they're looking for initial claims to fall to 400,000 or lower before they can say a jobs recovery has made noteworthy progress.

Businesses have been sitting on the fence when it comes to hiring, as they face uncertainty about the Bush tax cuts expiring at the end of the year and increased costs from health care reform.

More than 4,460,000 Americans continued to file ongoing unemployment claims in the week ended Sept. 25, the most recent data available.

On Friday, Wall Street will turn its attention to the government's monthly jobs report. Economists polled by Briefing.com forecast the report to show the economy added no jobs in September, and that the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.7% from 9.6% in August. To top of page

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