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Jobless claims fall to nearly 3-year low

chart_jobless_claims.top.gif By Hibah Yousuf, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- In another sign that the job market is slowly recovering, the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to a nearly 3-year low.

There were 368,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended Feb. 26, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was down 20,000 from the week before, and the lowest since May 2008.

Economists surveyed by Briefing.com had expected initial claims to rise to 400,000 in the latest report.

The 4-week moving average of initial claims, which aims to smooth out volatility, also improved, falling to 388,500 from the previous week's revised average of 401,250. That's the lowest since July 2008.

The weekly figure has hovered close to the 400,000 level since December, but are on a downward trajectory.

"The most positive thing seems to be that claims broke out of the 400,000 range, where they've been stuck for a while," said Dan Cook, chief executive officer of IG Markets. "Not to say we can't pop back up, but it seems like jobless claims are heading lower into the next range, around 350,000."

Still, Cook added that while the job market is headed in the right direction, it's recovering only at a snail's pace, with job creation at sluggish levels.

"We're still not out of the woods," he said. "The housing sector is in really rough shape, and even though corporations have a lot of cash on their balance sheets, they're not ready to let it go. Those two factors make it really difficult to add jobs."

The Labor Department is on tap to release the February jobs report Friday morning. Economists are expecting the economy added 190,000 jobs last month, up from just a gain of 50,000 in January.

The unemployment rate is expected to tick up to 9.2%, after falling to 9% in January.

Meanwhile, continuing claims -- which include people filing for the second week of benefits or more -- dropped by 59,000 to 3,774,000 in the week ended Feb. 19, the most recent week available. To top of page

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