WASHINGTON -- Initial jobless claims fell sharply last week to 335,000, the lowest level in five years in a hopeful sign for the labor market as the new year begins.
The number of people filing the first time for unemployment benefits dropped by 37,000 in the week ending Saturday from the previous week's revised figure of 372,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.
Economists say initial claims below 350,000 a week indicate strong job growth. But the numbers can vary widely from week to week.
Analysts had expected a more modest decrease last week, to 369,000, and the sharp drop could reflect the difficulty in making seasonal adjustments to the figures after the holidays.
The less-volatile four-week average fell to 359,250, down 6,750 from the previous week, a level consistent with the recent moderate job growth. The economy added 155,000 net new jobs in January and the unemployment rate remained at 7.8%.
But last week's figure was a positive sign.
The last time there had been fewer jobless claims in a week was in January 2008, just a month after the Great Recession began and well before the global financial crisis.
After the crisis hit, Claims surged to more than 500,000 a week for more than a year starting in November 2008. During the depths of the recession, in March 2009, weekly jobless claims peaked at 667,000.
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