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Weekly U.S. jobless claims drop 36,000

Weekly U.S. jobless claims drop 36,000 (by Ruth Mantell)

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- New applications for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits fell 36,000 to a seasonally adjusted 383,000 in the week ended Feb. 5, hitting the lowest level since July of 2008, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected an initial-claims level of 410,000. The level of claims helps observers to analyze the health of the labor market, and economists say claims would have to remain below 400,000 before there's a substantial gain in hiring. The last time claims were below 400,000 was in late December. In recent weeks weather has been behind some volatility in the data. The four-week average of new claims, which smoothes out some volatility, fell 16,000 to 415,500. Continuing claims, which reflect the number of people already receiving unemployment compensation, declined 47,000 to 3.89 million in the week ended Jan. 29. The four-week average of these continuing claims remained at 3.93 million. About 9.4 million Americans were getting some kind of state or federal unemployment benefit in the week ended Jan. 22, up about 106,000 from the prior week.