The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, pointing to a continued steady improvement in labor market conditions.
Jobless claims decreased by 27,000, the most in a month, to 341,000 in the week ended Feb. 9, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The level of filings was lower than any projection in a Bloomberg survey in which the median forecast was 360,000.
A slower pace of dismissals indicates demand is strong enough for companies to maintain headcounts, a necessary first step toward bigger job and income gains needed to accelerate consumer spending. Further strides in employment would augment advances in the stock market and housing, helping ease the burden of higher payroll taxes on household budgets.
The drop in claims “signals better times ahead for the job market,” Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, said before the report. Sweet is the best forecaster of jobless claims over the past two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. “We just need much stronger job growth to propel the economy on to the next stage.”
The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid dropped 130,000 to 3.11 million in the week ended February 2. That was the lowest level since July 2008 and could reflect people exhausting their benefits.