WASHINGTON – The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell to a seasonally adjusted 340,000 last week, driving down the four-week average to its lowest level in five years. The drop is a positive sign ahead of today’s report on February job growth.
Applications for benefits fell 7,000 in the week ended March 2, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s near five-year lows reached in January. And the four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 7,000 to 348,750. That’s the lowest since March 2008, just a few months into the Great Recession.
Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. When they fall, it suggests that companies are shedding fewer jobs. More hiring may follow.
The decline adds to other evidence that hiring may have been better last month than economists forecast. Analysts predict that employers added 152,000 jobs, according to a survey by FactSet. That’s about the same as in January. The unemployment rate is projected to fall to 7.8 percent from 7.9 percent.
The economy generated an average of 200,000 jobs a month from November through January. That was up from about 150,000 in the previous three months. In January they added 157,000.
The number of people receiving unemployment aid fell to 5.4 million in the week ended Feb. 16, the latest data available. That’s a drop of 362,000 from the previous week. Some of the decline is likely because people found work. But it is also because many have simply used up all the benefits available.