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A bright spot in the hiring picture

By Charles Riley, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of first-time filers for unemployment benefits fell by 24,000 in the latest week to the lowest level in nearly four months, the Labor Department reported Wednesday.

The number of initial filings fell to 435,000 in the week ended Nov. 6 from 459,000 the week before, the Labor Department said. The number was far better than the 450,000 economists surveyed by Briefing.com expected.

The claims total was the lowest since the 427,000 claims reported for the week ended July 10.

While encouraging, by no means do the numbers indicate the job market is out of the woods, cautioned Andrew Gledhill, economist at Moody's Analytics. But he said they are good news.

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.

Taken with other positive economic indicators, there is a case to be made that the drop might stick this time, said Mark Vitner, managing director and senior economist at Wells Fargo.

"There seems to be some improvement in private sector payrolls and it seems that businesses are more inclined to hire folks," Vitner said. "But at the end of the day ... we are still at a very high level."

The four-week moving average, calculated to smooth out volatility, totaled 446,500, down 10,000 from the previous week's revised average of 456,500.

The number of people filing unemployment claims for a second week or more fell to 4,301,000 for the week ended Oct. 30, the most recent data available. That's down 86,000 from last week's revised average of 4,387,000.

The number of Americans filing continuing claims has steadily declined after peaking at nearly 6.5 million in the spring of 2009. The latest level is the lowest for continuing claims since November 2008.

The next few weeks are crucial for Americans depending on unemployment benefits. Without Congressional action before Nov. 30 to extend the filing deadline, 2 million people will run out of unemployment benefits next month.

The better-than-expected weekly numbers came on the heels of an encouraging monthly unemployment report released Friday by the Labor Department that indicated the economy added 151,000 jobs in October.

Some states fared better than others. Two states -- Florida and South Carolina -- reported initial claims numbers that improved by more than 1,000 in the week ended Oct. 30.

Florida's claims decreased by 3,450 due to fewer layoffs in the construction, trade, and service industries.

But jobless claims in ten states rose by more than 1,000 over the same time period. Claims in California rose the most -- by 6,387 -- which the state attributed to an increase in service industry layoffs. To top of page

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