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New jobless claims fall to four-year low

By Don Lee, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — New claims for unemployment benefits dipped last week to their lowest level in four years in the latest sign of the continued, gradual healing in the job market.

(GRAPHIC: Chart showing trend in weekly claims for unemployment insurance since December 2007.)

The Labor Department said Thursday that there were 359,000 people filing first-time jobless claims last week, a drop of 5,000 from the previous week’s upwardly revised figure of 364,000.

The less-volatile four-week moving average was 365,000, down 3,500 from the previous week’s four-week average of 368,500.

Jobless claims, an indicator of layoffs, fell below the threshold 400,000 level in October, according to newly revised figures, and have been moving lower in recent weeks amid other signs that the job market is gaining strength.

The economy has created more than 220,000 net new jobs in each of the last three months, and surveys of businesses indicate executives are feeling more confident about future hiring plans.

Separately, the government Thursday reported no change in its latest estimate of U.S. economic growth in last year’s fourth quarter.

The Commerce Department said the nation’s gross domestic product, or the total value of all goods and services produced, expanded 3% at an annual rate in the final three months of last year, even as corporate profits slowed from the third quarter.

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