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U.S. jobless claims hit lowest weekly level since 2008

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The number of people seeking unemployment benefits plummeted last week to 352,000, the fewest since April 2008. The decline added to evidence that the job market is strengthening.

Applications fell 50,000, the biggest drop in the seasonally adjusted figure in more than six years, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, which smooths out fluctuations, dropped to 379,000. That's the second-lowest such figure in more than three years.

A department spokesman cautioned that volatility at this time of year is common. Applications had jumped two weeks ago, largely because companies laid off thousands of temporary workers hired for the holidays.

Still, when weekly applications fall consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to push down the unemployment rate.

"This continues a clear downshift in claims," said Ian Shepherdson, an economist at High Frequency Economics.

Shepherdson suggested that stronger hiring should follow.

Hiring improved in the second half of 2011. In December, employers added 200,000 jobs. That marked the sixth straight month in which the economy added at least 100,000 jobs. And the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent, a three-year low.

For all of 2011, the economy added 1.6 million jobs. That was up sharply from 940,000 in 2010. Economists say they expect roughly 1.9 million more jobs to be added this year, according to a survey by The Associated Press.

Still, the job market has a long way to go before it fully recovers from the damage of the Great Recession, which wiped out 8.7 million jobs. More than 13 million people remain unemployed. Millions more have given up looking for work and so are no longer counted as unemployed.

The overall number of people receiving benefits, which isn't seasonally adjusted, rose. More than 7.8 million people received benefits in the final week of last year. They include about 3.6 million people covered by extended-benefit programs begun during the recession.

The manufacturing sector remains a bright spot. Factory output jumped 0.9 percent in December, the Federal Reserve said this week. That was the sharpest monthly gain in a year. Manufacturing gained 225,000 jobs last year, the most since 1997.

The pickup in hiring reflects stronger economic growth. The economy likely grew at an annual rate of about 3 percent in the final three months of last year, economists estimate.

That would be a sharp improvement over the 1.8-percent annual growth rate in the July-September quarter. Rising consumer spending is thought to be fueling much of the gain in the current quarter.

Even so, economists worry that growth could slow in the first half of 2012. Europe is almost certain to fall into recession because of its financial troubles.

And wages aren't keeping up with inflation. The department said in a separate report that average inflation-adjusted hourly earnings dropped 0.9 percent last year.

Without more jobs and higher pay, consumers might have to cut back on spending. That would weigh down growth next year. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of the economy.

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  1. So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."

  2. I agree, having seen three shows, that I was less than wowed. Disappointing!!

  3. Start drilling, start fracking, and start using our own energy. Other states have enriched their citizens and nearly elminated unemployment by using these resources that are on private land. If you are against the 'low prices' of discount stores, the best way to allow shoppers more choice is to empower them with better earnings. NOT through manipulated gov mandated min wage hikes, but better jobs and higher competitive pay. This would be direct result of using our own energy resources, yet Obama knows that Americans who arent dependent of gov welfare are much less likely to vote Dem, so he looks for ways to ensure America's decline and keep its citizens dependent of gov.

  4. Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.

  5. Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.

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