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Jobless claims tumble to near 6-year low; some analysts are skeptical

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The number of people filing first-time unemployment claims plunged to below 300,000 in the week ending Saturday, but some economists expressed doubt about the steep drop of 23,000 .

The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of initial jobless claims fell to 298,000, near a six-year low. The figure has dropped in seven of the last eight weeks, signaling that layoffs are easing. 

The weekly data, however, are extremely volatile and often revised. The less-volatile four-week moving average was 322,250, a decline of 10,750, the Labor Department reported. 

Economists had on average expected jobless claims to hover around 320,000. Some analysts expressed skepticism about the steep weekly drop. 

"This looks great but it's hard to take the numbers seriously given the difficulty of seasonally adjusting accurately for Veterans' Day, the late Thanksgiving holiday and, soon, the Christmas and New Year chaos," Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a note to clients. "Right now, then, we just don't know what's really happening to the underlying trend in claims, but we would offer generous odds that it is not sub-300,000 or anywhere near it."

The Labor Department reported no special factors that contributed to the large drop in jobless claims.

Around the country, some states reported an uptick in the number of people applying for jobless benefits for the week ending Nov. 23. Not adjusted for seasonality, the data show that 8,326 Californians applied for benefits.

Thursday's report comes a day before the Labor Department's report on the job market in November.  Economists don't expect a big change in the unemployment rate, which was 7.3% in October . 

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