WASHINGTON — New claims for unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to 350,000, the lowest level in more than four years, the government reported.
The drop of 26,000 in initial jobless claims followed a drop of 12,000 the previous week and brought the figure to a level that economists say is consistent with strong job growth.
But the new numbers released Thursday by the Labor Department were inconsistent with other reports indicating that the recovery is faltering. On Friday, for instance, the U.S. reported that just 80,000 net jobs were created in June, well below economists’ projections, and the unemployment rate remained at 8.2%.
Concerns about the slowdown have put pressure on the Federal Reserve to take action to stimulate the economy.
The weekly unemployment numbers can vary widely, and last week’s drop could be caused by unusual factors. But it was the third weekly drop in a row, and the figure was down significantly from the 392,000 initial claims filed during the week ended June 16.
The more reliable four-week average also dropped last week by 9,750 to 376,500, the Labor Department said.
The last time the economy saw fewer than 350,000 people apply for unemployment benefits was in March 2008, just a few months into the Great Recession. By mid-2008, weekly claims were well above 400,000 and soared to a high of 667,000 in March 2009 before starting a gradual decline.