Initial claims for unemployment benefits continued to remain at a nearly four-year low low last week as a new poll showed that a majority of voters now say the economy has begun to recover, a sharp turnaround from five months ago.
There were 351,000 new jobless claims in the week ending Feb. 18, the same as the revised figure for the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The four-week average dropped to 359,000 from 366,000, reflecting a continued decrease in claims.
The numbers are another sign the economy is improving. Economists say that weekly claims below 400,000 indicate the economy is adding jobs.
Voters are becoming more optimistic, with 54% saying the economy has begun to recover, according to a poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University. Just 43% said the economy was not recovering.
The figures are a major change from September, when Quinnipiac found that 68% of voters thought the economy was not in recovery.
By a large margin, 66% to 30%, voters said the economy is in a recession, even though the severe recession technically ended in June 2009. The economy has been growing ever since, including modest 2.8% annualized increase in the last three months of 2011.
"Voters have begun to change their minds about the economy. They are humming, not yet singing, 'Happy Days Are Here Again,' but there seems to be a sense that things are getting a bit better," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
But Brown said the poll showed President Obama is not reaping the benefits of the economic improvements. Exactly half the respondents in the survey said Obama does not deserve reelection, with 45% saying he did. That was worse than Quinnipiac found in a November survey, when 48% said he did not deserve reelection and 45% said he did.
The national survey of 2,605 registered voters had a marging of error of 1.9 percentage points.