Weekly jobless claims top 400,000

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped 29,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 409,000, the Labor Department said.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose slightly to 439,000. It was the sixth straight increase.

The declines come after applications spiked last month to an eight-month high of 474,000. The increase was largely because of temporary factors. Still, it lifted applications nearly 100,000 higher than February’s three-year low of 375,000 — a level typically consistent with sustainable job growth.

Weekly applications peaked during the recession at 659,000.

Economists said they were encouraged to see applications declining again. But many said they would feel more optimistic about the job market when applications fall below 400,000.

“It will likely take several weeks before this average falls back below 400,000 and there is a risk that flooding in the Mississippi area could distort the claims data in the next one or two reports,” said John Ryding, an economist at RDQ Economics.



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